Showing posts with label Martial Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Martial Arts. Show all posts

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 -

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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sword Play: Information for Writers with Eric Gates

Eric Gates
After several readers tweeted me requests this week for information on swords, I turned to Eric Gates.

Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyberwarfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall. He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.

He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.

He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us. 

Fiona - 
Welcome, Eric. As a martial artist of (WOW!) fourteen different black belt disciplines, swordsmanship is part and parcel of your training. Does it make a big difference about style issues in how a sword is used? Or is a sword a sword and every culture manipulates the weapon in the same way?

Eric - 

Good question. There are many similarities in using a sword and many differences too, that vary according to the styles and characteristics of the weapons.

In Japanese swordsmanship, a Daito (long sword) can be used one-handed (Kiritsuke) or with both hands (Kiri). In the case of a two-handed grip, each hand has a distinct and separate role. 
  • The right hand, behind the guard, is used to guide the blade on its journey. 
  • The left is used, with a pulling action, to impart power. 
  • Both hands are used, by twisting the wrists in opposite directions without slackening the grip, to stop the blade’s motion. 
  • The space between the hands is used to help create a ‘lever’-like action to impart speed to the tip.

As with all swords, the cuts are delivered not with the arms and shoulders (sorry Arnie) but with the lower part of the body (hips and legs). This was why in Japan the wearing of Hakama (the baggy pants) helped cover the feet and thus hid any clue as to how you were going to strike.

In fighting with a sword, not just the edge of the blade is used. 
  • Strikes to the opponent’s hands, arms, body and weapons using the guard and the handle, even the back (non-sharp) part of the blade are employed. 
  • The use of other objects, from parrying weapons to throwing weapons (to blind or distract opponents – shuriken [throwing blade] in Japan) were common too. As is the use of ‘unarmed’ combat techniques (Japanese: Aikijutsu) to unbalance, even throw the opponent, or capture their weapon and disarm them. 

Most sword fighting, from Scottish Claymore, English Broadsword, Arabian Scimitar, Chinese Jian, to Japanese katana use the body's movements as the means to deliver the strikes, especially the lower body. 


The Samurai (which means ‘one who serves’) would be given his swords by the Daimyo or Feudal Lord. The two swords are known together as a Daisho and consist of:
  • Daito (the long sword, commonly referred to as a katana in the West) 
  • and the Shoto (shorter, one-handed sword). 
  • In turn these may be completed by a dagger or Tanto, often used to finish off the opponent on the battlefield by slipping its blade under the neckpiece of their armour once they are on the ground. 
All three are worn in the belt (Obi) in such a way they can been individually drawn without getting in the way of each other. In the Nito (or two-sword) Style both the short and long katana blades are used together, the right hand using the Daito and the left the Shoto, and both can be drawn simultaneously by someone trained in these styles.

Fiona - 
Do you think that a Japanese sword could find its way into a piece of modern literature? Or do you think it's best left to a different time period?

Eric - 
Japanese swords have been used in modern literature - the one that immediately comes to mind is Eric Van Lustbader's 'Ninja' books. Set in the present but involving a lot of ancient Japanese weapons, not just swords. 

Historically, Japanese swords found their way over to China and to Europe, and more recently, many American soldiers brought them home after WWII. So it's not completely impossible that they could appear. In Movies we have the Highlander series, the Bob Mitchum film Yakuza and of course Michael Douglas in Black Rain.

Fiona -
Who would carry such a weapon and what would their minimal training/background be (unless they were a wannabe psycho who bought a sword off E-bay?)

Eric - 
Many wannabes out there! Also many bad (i.e. dangerous) swords. Over here in Spain, there's a huge industry in Toledo dedicated to making replica swords - both of real weapons from history, and the sort that turn up on GOT or Lord of the Rings. Anyone can buy them, but most are useless as anything other than wall-hangers - they are made from poured metal (hopefully, but not always steel) using molds. 

It takes a good year to learn the basics of how to use a sword - and I do mean basics. Otherwise the probability of injuring yourself or others is very high.

Fiona - 
The sword is an intimate weapon. And by that I mean there are ways to wound someone hands-off, guns being the prime example. What kind of personality might gravitate to the use of a sword as their weapon of choice. It's so different than a knife - convenient, small, close proximity battle while a sword is a dance really - arms length, full body...

Eric - 
Yes, I agree. Swords are an intimate weapon. Anyone can shoot a gun (apologies, milady) but just to make a basic strike with a sword means learning a skill that involves both mental and physical expertise. To then face an opponent, similarly armed, requires understanding strategy, tactics, body language, internal energies, terrain managment and being better with your sword than they are with theirs. Above all it require two things: patience and absolute relaxation in your body and mind. Someone who impulse-bought a sword on EBay doesn't seem to fit the bill.

Fiona -
When you read a sword scene in a book, what makes you roll your eyes and skim forward? (I'm thinking things that defy physics and anatomy here)

Eric - 
Two basic areas: all this nonsense about swords being imbued with magical properties when they are made because they are dipped in human blood (which would cause a hot piece of steel to warp and break instantly) etc. No, all they ever used was water (salted usually) or oil. Second issue is really a multiple. All the nonsense people repeat because they've seen it in a movie. I’d like to highlight five common mistakes regarding swords that Hollywood especially has propagated throughout the years:
  1. When placed on a display rack, the Japanese katana swords should never be simulating a smile, rather a grimace (i.e. a bump in the middle). I see this constantly in movie & TV. The reason is simply you do not want the wood on the inside of the scabbard (saya) in contact with the cutting edge when in storage. 
  2. You can always tell when a non-Japanese has trained an actor in wielding a katana – both hands will be gripping the sword handle (Tsuka) together. A Daito (the long sword) is gripped with the right hand behind the guard (Tsuba) and the left at the end of the handle. The space between allows for greater control and leverage during the strikes. In fact, the left-hand little finger and heart finger are the most important in gripping the sword (which may be why the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, so fond of carrying katana, have to chop off the tip of their little finger in penance if they screw up something – this would make using a sword efficiently extremely difficult and result in the decline of their importance in the organization). Usually when I see this, the instructors for the movie/TV show are Chinese as this manner of gripping the two-handed sword is Chinese, not Japanese, in origin. 
  3. A mistake made often by fantasy writers: in a battle scenario, the kind of sword you want to have is one which can slash and hack. The ‘coolness’ of a rapier-like blade is offset by its impracticality in this kind of situation as superficial cuts and stabbing don’t get the job done. This kind of weapon was employed for one-on-one duelling (especially in France) and is just not suitable (even for small girls, sorry GOT fans) as they are easy to break when they go up against a more solid blade. Incidentally, this is probably why certain writers imbue their dainty weapons with ‘magical’ properties. 
  4. Remember that scene in Kill Bill 2 in the trailer - just wouldn't happen. Anyone with a minimum of training can draw a sword within the width of their body, flip it around so the pointy bit is aimed at the opponent and strike... and do it quickly. Plenty of room to swordfight in a trailer - could this be a new sport? 
  5. Another fallacy - sword weights and the huge, bulked up people that many would believe are needed to use them. Most swords, worldwide and throughout history were between 1 and 2 kilos. Those big battle broadswords used in the middle ages rarely exceeded 4 kilos. You need to remember that moving something of a certain weight at a speed that would allow kinetic energy to help do some damage will tire you out even if you look like Schwarzenegger. (Incidentally, when he was filming Conan in Cuenca in Spain, he trained with a Japanese friend of mine at the Japanese Cultural Centre in Madrid - they didn't get on, to say the least - Arnie wanted a lot of twirling and stuff - useless - and the swordmaster wanted to teach classic swordfighting - Arnie left after a couple of weeks.)

Fiona - 
LOL - why does that not surprise me about Arnold? I love the phrase "terrain management" - I'm assuming this means you don't trip over the brambles in the pathway?

Eric -
Terrain management refers to the place where you fight. You see many movie fights staged on flat areas with no obstacles. That doesn't happen. The footing could be icy, sandy, rocky, uneven, a mountain track 
with a drop-off, a small room...You have to know how to use the environment to your advantage, and to the opponents' disadvantage as well 

After searching old backup copies of stuff on DVDs I came across the attached pic. It shows several interesting aspects of TM. The technique we did took place on the edge of a small wood on a very sunny day, relatively early in the morning - hence the dappled lighting effect. 
Now depending on where you were standing, your form and movements were diffused by this - instant camouflage as the human eye tries to adjust to the sharp localised differences in light.

I used this by applying an Aikijutsu technique which spun the other guy around so his face was pointed into the sunlight. I then applied pressure to his knees with my own, taking advantage of the slope of the hill and loose dirt underfoot, to make him lose his balance. Capturing his left elbow and steering it using the grip of my own sword, resulted in the point of his weapon piercing the earth, thus reducing its threat level to me. Finally, I moved in for the 'kill' cut with a reverse forward grip on my own Daito.

Fiona - 
So very interesting.
Thank you so much.
Learning in a Do jang. I often thought we should be training in real life situations. And real life clothing. I think that's a big hole in MA training.

Eric - 
The gear we wear for sword training, from the tabi shoes through the Hakama pants and wide-sleeved jackets, is exactly what was worn by the samurai when not using armour. The latter, even replica, is far too expensive for training purposes, so it's as good as it gets. 

When I teach self-defence, we do train with street clothing though, and common improvised weapons. That's the basic difference between (using the Japanese terminology) a -do (such as Karate-do, Ju-do, Aiki-do etc) and a -jutsu. It's not just about the former being focused on competition (even if it's just about doing a better Kata than the rest); it's a state of mind. 

Modern clothing is not designed for fighting, so it makes an interesting element to take into consideration both negatively (what you can't do) and positively (what your opponents can't do) and exploiting the latter is half of the fun. 

Also being able to fight inside vehicles, subways, aircraft, trains, and all the other places we take for granted in our lives is so different from what you learn on a tatami (for example, I learnt to roll out of throws on a marble floor - that way you get it right the first time or it hurts). The change in perspective is also remarkable: you see your world in a different way. That magazine on the table, the coaster under your drink, the coffee in your cup, the mug itself, the pencil in your pocket, the chair you're sitting on etc all become potential long as you know how to use them. 

And no, it's not about learning Jason Bourne-like techniques with a rolled-up newspaper; it's a mentality-shift, based solidly on science (physics, anatomy and math, mainly geometry) which can be taught and easily assimilated with a little practice. 

My own approach is what I call the "toolbox method." There's no point learning specific techniques to counter predefined situations because the odds of that situation happening exactly as you practiced are pretty remote. So the trick is to have a stack of options available, easily combined amongst themselves, to respond. Just like the handyman who is faced with a repair - he may not have the precise tool he needs, but he does have the knowledge of what needs to be done and what the capabilities of his tools he has will allow. It's the Swiss Army Knife/MacGiver mentality at work; all about breaking mental boundaries. 

Fiona - 
Funnily enough, I unschooled my kids and their education is based on what I call my "Toolbox Philosophy." 

I'm interested in the concept you mentioned  about being relaxed in mind and body. THAT is a task easier accomplished in a setting with a sparring partner - what does one do to prepare for a real battle with a vicious enemy? How does one learn to maintain or compartmentalize the adrenaline so that they can stay in their place of Zen quietude and perform at top level?

Eric - 
It's not Zen, as such. The Japanese call it Mushin (literally 'No Soul'). It's like a blank slate on which you are waiting for someone to write something. It is not easy to learn yet all competent fighters, of any discipline, usually have this. It frees your training and your body. Many 'arts' teach you to maintain a tense body position (Karate for example) yet any muscle group MUST relax before it can move a limb so tensing beforehand, then relaxing just wastes time. It's a dance, as you say. The more relaxed you are, the more you go with the music and integrate your movements with your partner/opponents then the better things will go for you. 

Fiona - 
What do you want us to know about the sword experience so we can translate it into our writing. By this, I'm really asking if you can share how it feels to you - the weight in your hand, the air whistling past the blade, what happens to your body when you are struck or conversely land a strike. This is a huge hard question.

Eric -
Okay, I'll give it a go: In combat, sword or otherwise, you strive to attain a state where you trust your training to keep you out of trouble. There's no time to think out a move, your body is being hammered with adrenaline too, as you say, which can play havoc with basic control. Then there's the amygdala and the fight or flight issue. If you choose to fight, you can give in to an adrenaline-fueled reaction (and become much easier to defeat). So maintaining calmness especially in your mind, and the body relaxed, opens the door to whatever you need.

When fighting, you are not conscious of holding a weapon. If you have trained well, it has become an extension of your own body, like moving a hand or foot. You don't think, just do. That sounded very Yoda-like, didn't it - I'm even turning green - must be the adrenaline!

 After it's all over, then you notice the adrenaline and throw up!

Adrenaline and heave definitely go together.

Fiona - 
Yes, my heroine from my Lynx series, Lexi, vomits a lot. Poor girl.

What do you wish I had asked you today?

Eric - 
Best sword in the world? 
This is a discussion that has been raging for, probably, centuries. Some say the Japanese katana blade, others those made from Toledo steel and yet others, the famous Damascus steel blades. For a combat sword to be outstanding, it needs to be both strong and flexible (did you know you can bend a good Daito blade sideways almost back on itself without it breaking), relatively lightweight and easy to maintain on the battlefield....

And, why do I look so fat in that video?
I have a habit of stuffing notebooks and coloured pens down the front of my training jacket to explain stuff in class - occasionally other weapons to throw etc. as a surprise for the students. What I had that day, I can't remember - probably as it was a Black Belt class, the notebook and pens.

Fiona - 
Before I ask the obligatory question about death-defying experiences, I wanted to tell folks that Eric's book won

GoodReads BOOK of the MONTH February 2015


Outsourced - 
Outsourced’ features a New York-based writer of thriller novels who receives a mysterious package from a fan. That fan turns out to be a professional killer. That’s just the start of the writer’s problems; problems that escalate way beyond anything he could have imagined on the pages of his novels, as death and destruction follow rapidly.

Just when matter cannot get any worse for the novelist, he learns a high-tech Intelligence agency has been tasked with obtaining the contents of the package too, and they will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. They have their own global agenda. The agent assigned to the task is out of her depth working on US soil and her methods are unsuited to a civilian environment. As pressure mounts for her to achieve results, she becomes more and more radical in her approach.

And, if that’s not enough… the sender wants it back, and his methods are even more direct and violent! He believes the contents of the package were used to try to kill him and his aim is to recover them and exact his revenge on the writer.

Fiona - 
Were any  of your scars made with the tip of a sword?

Eric - 
Scars - yes I have a few but can't tell you where or how I got them, sorry, (none of them from a sword though.) I do have the one on my forehead from when I did a science experiment at age 4 - what's the hardest, my head or a ceramic tile? Guess which won?

Harrowing experiences? Jumped between skyscrapers and got shot at on the same day when doing a security penetration test for a client... no more details available. Does that count? How about being scheduled to fly one morning, cancelling at the last minute due to clients' planning issue and aircraft falls from sky killing all aboard (I recently heard that it may have been a bomb with another passenger as the target).

Fiona - 
Yowza! Now here I am with the dilemma - if travelling with you, do I insist that we are side by side for my own protection? Or do I require my own car and separate hotels for my own protection? 

Eric - thank you so much for such fabulous plotting fodder. So incredibly interesting. 

If you'd like to stay in touch with Eric here are some handy links:

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Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. Cheers,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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Transforming Your Beta Heroine into Her Full Alpha Potential w/ Danielle Serpico


Poor little beta heroine. She looks so sweet in her librarian attire, buttoned up to the very top button, hair swirled into a practical knot on the back of her head. Too bad her caved shoulders, shy gaze, and soft voice make your other characters think they can manipulate and manhandle her. Quite frankly, she's had enough of those shenanigans, and she's hell-bent (in the most demure and ladylike way possible) on finding her inner Xena.

To help beta heroine along her path to alpha stardom, I have invited Danielle Serpico to chat with us.  

Hi Danielle, I'm so glad we're talking today. You have an amazing background with martial arts and women's empowerment. Can you tell me about your work?

Danielle - 
Hi, sure yes, delighted to. The arts I have trained in are American and Chinese Kenpo and Taiji Chuan. I am a Gold and Silver European Champion. My instructor was Alan Ellis, and
I also had the privilege of training on many occasions with, mainly Tommy Jordan, Erle Montague, Larry Tatum. I teach various classes and self defense seminars in the empowerment aspect of things.

I am an NLP trainer. I use this technique to help people overcome their limiting beliefs and realize their full potential. I help them take control of their emotions and have confidence and self-belief.

NLP and Martial Arts are interlinked.

Fiona -
For some of my readers, NLP or Neuro Linguistic Programming, will be a new concept. Can you give us a brief overview? What is the goal of using NLP and how does it work?

Danielle - 
Neuro Linguistic Programming - therefore the language that we use to "program" our minds and that of others. We use it every day even if we think we don't. And it is used on us.

Basically anyone who is suggestible, which is all of us, is influenced by language and uses NLP.

The term NLP was coined by John Grinder and Richard Bandler
with whom I have had the honor of training.

Grinder and Bandler studied people who were successful in their field: coaching, psychology, hypnotherapy, etc. They monitored the result and what they had in common. Their discoveries pertaining to what worked became NLP.

NLP is a tool to help us regain control over our minds, thoughts, emotions, and ultimately our actions.

Fiona -
Can you tell me a bit about your book,The Blackbelt Mastermind? How does that tie together both of your fields of expertise, martial arts and NLP?


Danielle - 
The Blackbelt Mastermind is basically my system. It is the accumulation of my work, and the process I take clients through.

I use the acronym: MASTER.
Masterful Attitude, Strength, and Tenacity Equals Results

I tell the story of my journey briefly in my book, and how I overcame adversity. The main message in The Blackbelt Mastermind is to never give up, to always keep getting back up,
no matter what - just like in martial arts training.

When you get kicked in the gut, remember the pain will pass. It is the same in life. Always fight back. And fight back FULLY.

I learned through my martial arts journey and through life experience that you can grow from adversity. In fact, you come back stronger.

In Blackbelt Mastermind, I show you tools and ways to help yourself overcome these obstacles and challenges and how adversity will make you stronger so that you can become the champion in your own life and the Master Blackbelt of your mind.

Fiona - 
Let's pretend for a moment that you are a character in a book. The heroine, a beta character approaches you; she's in trouble, life isn't going well. She feels that she needs to empower herself, and she thinks martial arts will help. She has chosen you specifically to bring out her inner warrior goddess because she knows you do NLP as well as fight. Can you walk us through the process of moving our beta character into her true alpha role? And what stages might she experience along the way?

Danielle - 
Okay, The first thing I would do is help her become aware. I would do that by using the Empty Cup Theory. The heroine would start by emptying her thoughts of any preconceived ideas that she may have regarding martial training or simply her mindset. She has to let go, and then become open and trusting and aware of a new way of acting, moving, thinking and behaving - knowing that I will guide her as she acquires her new skills.

This is the most courageous step she will need to take, as it is her first step and that is always the hardest. 
Everything starts with the first and most important stage, awareness.

Her awareness will include hearing her sabotaging critic - what she says to herself. She does this by simply listening and maybe meditating, or doing something such as meditating through her forms or kata, connecting with her primal or reptilian brain.

Fiona slips in with a quick definition insert: kata is the Japanese word for a series of choreographed movements. In martial arts there are various names, but they all are moving meditations that are memorized and performed in the same way by all of the students.

(Danielle cont.)
The primal brain contains the knowledge of her ancestors and is a composite of all their talents and survival mechanisms.

The simple act 
Deutsch: Yin Yang
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
of being aware of your negative, self sabotaging voice is powerful. Awareness cancels out negative thought controls.

Once you "remove" yourself from the overwhelming feelings that absorb you, the feelings lose their control.

Your heroine also needs to balance her internal yin and yang 
to understand the ebb and flow of her emotions.

Fiona - 
Oh, dear - yes, her internal yin-yang is all a kilter - what would she do about that?

Danielle - 
Basically, once she understands that there is no light without shade,
no hard without soft, for every smile there is a tear. In essence, her vulnerability and negativeness vastly contribute to her strength and positivism.

It is a process to connect the mind and body, and it is accomplished through either form work in a martial term, kata etc.

She needs to understand the form which is in essence a moving story poem or representation of yin and yang. The various postures are just that.

Danielle Serpico moving through a kata

Fiona - 
So now our heroine has come to the conclusion that in her life she has been overly soft and shed more tears than she has experienced smiles. She's on a mission to balance her masculine and feminine. It helps that she just kicked her first board, and her foot went right through.

Danielle - 
She is taking micro-steps to see how that feels in her everyday life.

Fiona - 
How long would a determined beta-heroine take to move to a more balanced state - for the sake of plotting the transformation?

Danielle - 
In practical terms, in classwork this will involve her training to move forward into the attack. The classroom scenarios, while representing physical assault, also train her to move forward and become assertive in all areas of her life.

There are two sayings which I love, which relate to this.
One we all know:  Feel the fear and do it anyway.
FEAR = often false evidence appearing real

I also love: He who hesitates, meditates in a horizontal position.

Fiona - 
The K'iaps, I think are very good for this as well. A k'iap , for our readers, is the sound that you make when striking or blocking. Doing this powerfully is embarrassing for many - especially girls who have been taught to modulate their tones. Overcoming this block seems to be a big step in empowerment - would you agree?

This is what a k'iap can sound like. I used a more powerful k'iap for breaking the cement block than I would in a normal sparring round.

The K'iap or 'Ki-ai' is essential for unifying mind and body at a precise moment in time. S
o yes, of course, it is an important step.

The k'iap should be practiced regularly when striking, but more importantly is the understanding that it is the expression of primal INTENT used by all ethnic warrior groups. Amazonian women screamed when going into battle the practice is no less relevant for today's woman. 

The INTENT behind the k'iap and accessing this state, of course both are interlinked learning and realizing that we all have the inalienable right to defend ourselves - be that on the streets, in the dojo (dojo is one of the names for the martial arts studio) or the workplace - in anyway we see fit. 

Self defense is so much more than kicks and punches. It is important for your beta heroine to access her self-belief and truly understand her right to be safe. She also must learn to love herself. It is important in order for the beta heroine to transform into an alpha heroine that she always accesses this state of self-preservation in her practice. She must own that she has the right to protect herself.

Fiona - 
Let's go back to the question of the transformative arc.
A very mousy heroine comes into your dojo. During the story arc of the book, she transforms into her her potential.

Can you lay some stages that you might have seen unfold in your students. ex: First she had caved shoulders and small voice then X happened, and the next time she came in she was different in this way.

Danielle - 
Okay, absolutely. Let's start with me as an example. The first time I went to the dojo, I sat on my hands with my feet turned inwards. I timidly watched the class in progress, and meekly approached the instructor when called forward. And I was made to face fear. 

While I knew CONSCIOUSLY, that I would not be really hurt at the dojo, and I trusted my instructor, my primal instinct was still to be afraid of the flailing hands and feet that whizzed inches from my body.

This first introduction to pairing off or 'one step' technique, is a ground breaking experience for many, and the start of their climb to confidence. (Pairing is when you work with a partner on your skills such as punching, kicking, blocking, or take-downs). From then on, their attitudes and postures change.

I had faced fear and understood fear. I understood that I would feel afraid, but I could survive that fear. I learned to literally KNOW fear and not that we simply don't have "NO fear."

This important step will demonstrate to the heroine that through facing the challenges set before her, she can climb to blackbelt or to the life she wants to live.

She must constantly learn to face fear and to live with it, so that she may use fear as an ally and not an enemy. This is reflected in the progressing belt colors, where we meet stronger and more able fighters.

The heroine's demeanor will change rapidly through this process of pressure testing; I know mine did.

In the same way in NLP terms when we constantly stretch our boundaries and our safety net, it will expand. Interestingly, 
there is very little difference between the manifestation of excitement and fear. Learning to go with the fear and to know it in life, gives us huge control and power.

In relation to how martial arts and life intertwine -
In NLP we learn that 93% of our conscious mind does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Hence, when we visualize with INTENT and with EMOTION behind it, we can trick our unconscious. This is hugely powerful and the most important point to remember in training, both in the dojo or out of it. 

Let's assume for a moment that a heroine has played a scene through her head. Perhaps she visualizes an attack that she successfully fends off or she goes to an interview and she nails the job. Once she has tricked her mind into thinking that she has seen the threatening situation through to fruition with a positive outcome, then doing it in real life is easier. Hence, when your heroine is practicing in her mind, she must practice with REAL intent and EMOTION and trick that 93% of her mind. Useful stuff to know.

Fiona - 
We are at the last moment of our time together - and I always ask about your favorite scar or harrowing story.

Danielle - 
Not exactly a scar but my shins.

I fought the Spanish Kickboxing champion who had come to train at our dojo and wanted to impress us. If there was ever a time to bring forth the heroine within, it was this occasion.

This girl was one tough cookie. First, she had intimidated and humiliated many of the junior ranks, and knocked out two of the guys.

As my turn to face her came round, I felt the eyes of all those around me, I was a newly qualified blackbelt and European champion. 

Over the years my shins had become 'dented' and if I run my hands along them I can feel the dents. A testament to my training. When she kicked me with the first of her ferocious low kicks,
it all came back to me - the journey I had made to this point.

The excruciating pain in my shins reminded me of what I had been through. And soon enough, she felt the brunt of that.

My shins remind me that just like life there are bumps along the way, but they serve to make us stronger.

Fiona - 
Danielle, thank you so much for your insights. 

If you would like to contact Danielle and
find out how she could help you with your
confidence, her link is:

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you 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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How to Punch Cement - for Writers

DISCLAIMER: It would be idiotic to read this article, go out and buy some cement, and without any preparation, training, or hands-on guidance attempt to punch through it - ‘nuff said.

note: in this video I am striking with a kubotan in my hand.

If you saw me after my last Tae Kwon Do testing, with my wrist in a cast, you would not read any further. Yes, I punched cement and the cement won. Only it wasn’t a normal concrete block; the one I attempted, unwittingly, was reinforced. It’s constructed to be unbreakable - and you know what? It is. Had my block been normal concrete, I would have punched through it, as I had in the past, as if it was butter. Okay, not butter - something crispier and with more crumbs.

Why would anyone do that? I do it because I can. It’s a brain training exercise. It’s about understanding mind over matter. This doesn't always work. Ask my friend who just attempted a mind-over-matter walk over a path of hot coals. There wasn't a happy ending. She had major burns on her poor feet. But unlike coals, which I know nothing about -
 punching through a concrete slab is a matter of physics, focus and will.

The first thing to remember is the idea of dispersal. You are applying force. Energy can be focused on a small space thereby increasing the force; or, it can be spread over a large space dispersing the force. Think of this in terms of high-heeled shoes. A high-heeled shoe will leave a little dimple in a wooden floor where a flat heel will not. The smaller you can get your strike - the more successful you will be.

Second, the goal is not to aim for the cement. The cement creates the top of a table and two blocks create the legs. This gives room for the strike to follow through and for the debris to fall to the side. The aim, as in all punches, is not the point of contact but the other side of the contact. Ignore the cement and try to punch the floor. If you are aiming for the floor, your force will not stop when it feels cement - your force will drive further down towards your intended goal and the cement will break on the way.

Okay - why write about this? First for people trying to reach a goal...The goal is an end point. What can you see on the other side? What happens next? If you aim for what comes next - the other side of your goal, you have to pass through your point of intention on the way. The point of intention can look big, daunting, and undoable, but if it’s just a point along the way, it looses its overwhelming quality. Do you think I really want to punch cement? No - it looks impassable. (and if it’s reinforced it is indeed impassable). It is daunting; because of this, I would flinch, hesitate, and hold back. If I had any of these reactions, there is no way that my fist is going through that cement. I will probably just end up hurting myself.

As a writer how can I apply this? Breaking cement is what I think about when people tell me they have writers block. I don’t personally believe in writers block. I think that the aim is too shallow, and that’s why the writing isn’t swinging through. Try not aiming for the block - don't keep punching at an impassable object. Instead, put a word or two in to hold the place and aim for the floor. The floor here being the completed project. I bet as you swing through, towards the goal, that the block will crumble.

And what about the idea of concentrated force? Writers that I know are tweeting, blogging, reading, writing, researching… doing too much? Maybe trying physics would be helpful. Dispersing force, from a physics stand-point, is ineffectual. What I have learned in punching cement is that I should focus on a small target. The smaller the strike area, the more focused energy. When I am writing my manuscripts, I take a vacation from interruption. I aim my focus to the other side of the goal. I take a deep breath, and I strike through. You might want to try this technique. I bet you'll crush it!

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you 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.