April 15, 2010

"Meditations on Violence" - Book Review

Right off the bat I need to make this statement: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!! Their are two people who read this blog, martial artists and my mom. (Mom, you can read this if you wish, but you have that maddening mom crazy style that only a fool would mess with!) For the rest of you Sgt. Rory Millers pivotal work should be required reading.

"Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" has been on my shelf for quite sometime now and my recent trip to LA afforded me the time to catch up on some reading and MOV was top of the list.

Rory Miller is a veteran corrections officer somewhere here in the PAC NW, as well as being a 20+ years student of various martial arts. He combines all this knowledge and experience into an easy to read textbook on the realities of combat in our civilian lives. Note that this is NOT a "how to" manual. Miller offers no bear hug escapes. No "secret" techniques to help you survive your next altercation on the mean streets of Seattle. Nope, this book is on the subjects that most martial arts instructors never address, and everyday people do not even think about walking around in our "civilized" society:
  • Physiological & Psychological responses to adrenaline
  • Predators: their thinking, their actions, their rationalizations
  • Common misconceptions and mistakes regarding training and drilling for violence
  • The after effects of dealing with a violent encounter, regardless of outcome
Looking at the subtitle of this book, "A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence," one could assume that Miller was going to have a negative approach to martial arts training. Not the case at all. Miller is very neutral and professional as he lays out the facts of the experiences he has had both while working in the penal system, as well as the handful of street incidents he has had. Now of course the pessimist can argue that none of us would ever have to deal with such monsters that are found in prison, and for the most part that is true. But always keep in mind that those monsters that Hollywood glamorizes do not start in prison! They are caught at some point in their career on the streets of America before ending up in Sgt. Millers care.

I found Millers approach as ego less as an author can be. He never comes across as preachy. Styles of martial arts is never a subject because it does not matter what system of ancient martial art you train. As a matter of fact it is in HOW you train that makes a difference, not WHAT you train. Much of what he offers makes perfect sense, but goes against ever natural grain in our being. Such as this scenario:

Your house has been broken into, and a man is holding your family hostage. Your wife and child are in the bedroom with a gun to their head. The gunman orders you to go to the garage and get rope, duct tape, and a hammer. What do you do?

Our protective nature (as men / as parents) tells us to do as he says, after all he has a gun to my child's head! But lets think this out (which Miller freely admits does not happen at the moment!). The rope and duct tape are obviously to restrain and restrict movement, ie: everyone is getting tied up. The hammer... well... use your imagination. Then imagine shit you could never imagine and magnify times 10! Some of the stories in this book are beyond sick and will stick with you the rest of your life, which was very intentional on Millers part.

Anyways back to the situation....
Basically you have three options. Comply / fight / flight.

Fight: You have missed your chance, or your "go" moment as Miller calls it. So the gunmen has the upper hand and has taken control of the situation. A fight here could get ugly for all involved.

Flight: You run, leaving your family in the hands of a sociopath. He could kill them. He could freak out and run. You cannot control those situations, but one thing in your control... the cops are now involved the moment you get free and get help.

Comply: Most of us probably picked this option first, thinking of the immediate threat to our loved ones. We bring back the tape, all of us are bound (top of the list with Miller regarding situations that are nearly completely hopeless), and now not only are you most likely going to die, you will be the last one to go watching helplessly as the gunmen goes to work on your wife and child! And if you are moved to a secondary crime scene the odds of being helped in time are even further diminished!

Its an odds game. "Protecting" your family by complying will only ensure your loss of control and most likely life. By fleeing you may feel like you are abandoning your loved ones, but in reality you are giving them the best odds of surviving.

MOV is pack full of different scenarios and situations that most of us will never encounter. The intent of the book is not to make you paranoid and fearful, but rather quite the opposite. MOV empowers you with confidence in making wise decisions, in understanding how the body and mind work in our complex social structure. You will be able to discern between an actual threat, and a silly "Monkey Dance."

As a martial artist this text may make you re-evaluate your training, or at the very least why you are training. I have seen so much bullshit over the past 19 years in the world of "real" self defense. As Miller states martial artists are the most in dire need of lessons such as these! The few serious encounters I have experienced are exactly as Miller states! And my actions and tactics that worked / failed in those scenarios stick with me to this day, even though it has been nearly 8 years since I bounced.

Some observations as a martial artist reading this book:
  • All, not some, ALL encounters ended up in the clinch range! No matter how they started; striking, knives, guns etc. they all ended up being in the clinch range.
  • The physical, emotional, mental cues that something is about to go off are always present and consistent... if you know what to look for.
  • A moments hesitation will cause you great bodily harm! The first to get hit is almost always the first to lose the fight!
  • You must know what you are willing to fight for, and what is water under the bridge. Meditate on this well before the "go" moment.
"Meditations on Violence" is hands down the best book I have read on the martial arts, and without a doubt the best piece that YMAA has ever published! Kudo's to them for this excellent text that should be required reading by anyone. EVERYONE!

"Meditations on Violence"
180 pages MSRP $18.95
Sgt. Rory Miller
2008 YMAA Publishing

Train Hard. Train Smart.

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