Monday, January 3, 2011

Book review - "Meditations on Violence" by Sgt. Rory Miller

"Meditation on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence", written by Sgt. Rory Miller, a veteran corrections officer in the Pacific Northwest, is an excellent look at martial arts training and the preconceived notions about violence that inhabit almost every school, system, what-have-you.

The book is broken up into seven chapters: the Matrix, How to Think, Violence, Predators, Training, Making Physical Defense Work, and After.
  1. The Matrix introduces the idea of using a matrix to "describe and analyze a multidimensional event in a multidimensional way" (Miller 2).  Miller explains that a fight can arise in four different ways: you were Surprised, you were Alerted, Mutual combat, & you are the Attacker.  There are also three levels of force: No Injury, Injury, Lethal.  What you wind up with is a 3x4 "Tactical Matrix" for examining techniques, arts, etc. in abstract situations.  He also gives you a "Strategic Matrix" which is an 11x7 grid showing different arts vs the different types of violence.
  2. In How to Think, Miller challenges you to attack your own assumptions about violence and pay attention to the four common sources of knowledge: Experience, Reason, Tradition, & Entertainment and Recreation.  Miller explains that the quality of the learning gets worse as you go down that list.  Experience is the best teacher - I know that if I punch a person in this spot, they go down, so why should I listen to this "expert" who is telling me that they won't? etc.  This chapter is also where Miller discusses strategy - you need to decide, now, before the shit hits the fan, what will or will not make you "flip the switch" - and when it is time to "go" you go and you go hard.  Also discussed in this chapter is the "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act" (OODA) loop by which we make decisions, and how to exploit your opponent being caught in it.
  3. Chapter 3, Violence, breaks violence into two main categories: the Monkey Dance and Predatory Violence.  The Monkey Dance is the hierarchy establishing violence that is seen throughout nature and is, by design, non-lethal - think about two elk "fighting" for the right to mate with the head, lots of noise and head-butting, but no life-threatening injuries.  Predatory Violence, however, is a very different ballgame.  In Predatory Violence, the victim is not seen as human - they are seen as a resource and Predatory Violence almost always happens as an ambush - think lions taking down a wildebeest.  Miller dissects the various aspects of violence, including the various chemicals that effect the body, and gives the reader four basic truths about violence that should impact our training: Violence happens Closer, Faster, More Suddenly, and with More Power than people usually train for.
  4. Chapter 4 examines Predators - why they do what they do and how they do it.  Kind of difficult to describe, you just have to read it.
  5. Chapter 5 is what I considered to be the meat-and-potatoes of the book - Training.  This is exactly what I, as a martial artist, want to read about.  Yes, I am intrigued by the the "Why's", but get me to the "How to Train for It".  The first section describes the flaws that exist in drills - when the drill sets an unrealistic expectation about violence (see chapter 3), when the drill allows unsafe techniques (punching with gloves, etc), and when the drill is based on the flaw - using medium speed techniques to counter slow speed attacks.  His most interesting complaint that hit close to home - training to pull your blows is training to miss.  The second section of this chapter discusses some of the benefits to solo and two-person katas - specifically that solo kata are wonderful for training your body to move as a unit, and that two-person kata, when done with intent & allowing the uke (player, "bad guy") to do one very counter-intuitive move, allow you to practice at a very high level without protective gear.  The remainder of the chapter deals with how to respond to the challenge of the four basic truths about violence (chapter 3).
  6. The penultimate chapter is based around the five stages to defend yourself - Movement (blocking the movement), Opportunity (blocking the opportunity), Intent (blocking the intent), Relationship (altering the relationship), & Terrain (the use thereof).  Other gems include Miller reiterating his discussion that you need to set parameters upon which you will flip the switch, the Golden Rule of Combat ("Your most powerful weapon/Applied to your opponent's greatest vulnerability/At his time of maximum imbalance"), and the 4 effects you can have on your opponent - move him (or part of him), cause pain, cause damage, & cause shock.  
  7. The final chapter is perhaps the most important chapter in any martial arts book I've ever read.  Miller describes, in detail, how to handle the aftereffects of real world violence - your own feelings and worries, dealing with other's perceptions of you, etc.
It is really, really hard to write a decent review of this book.  My only suggestion is to read it.  Then read it again.  Then wait a few months and read it again.  I know I will.

Here is a link to Sgt. Rory Miller's website, including his blog.

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