Martial Secrets: Decision making

I had quit drinking my coffee; I just sat silently, listening to each part of the story as it unfolded. She and her husband had been the subject of a home invasion robbery.

Two men knocked on the door of their duplex and once they opened their door the two men burst in, one with a gun. The homeowners – one a priest and the other an attorney – found them at gun point and shouted at to “Give us the drugs!” while the other assailant ransacked the apartment.

More questions followed – something about a baby (yes, apparently the drug dealers they were seeking had a baby) and the names didn’t match. The criminals figured it out…they had the wrong duplex; they meant to go next door. And this is where the story really gave me chills. “They taped us up in our chairs so they could rob the duplex next door.” She said.

This scenario illustrates one of my personal “non-negotiables”—as a result, as she went on to tell the story, I found it hard to listen because of the adrenaline rush it produced in me just thinking about it. I had long ago decided that faced with such a situation, I would never allow myself to be tied up, and I was never going to allow myself to be transported. I would fight with all I had to not let these two things happen because they mean you are going to be executed.

It turned out, of course, that she was successful in her strategy of compliance and getting to know the attackers; it worked, she was here to tell me about it. After talking with her more, I think – and it is only an opinion – that this scenario was not the assailants’ intent, and this is why. The gun man stood close to them and he talked with them. The gun is a weapon of distance. Demanding no communication with the victim allows for objectification, which makes it psychologically easier to use the weapon to kill. That was not the pattern here, so it appears they had no intent to kill anybody, only threaten.

Now this event could have gone in any direction really fast, and there is a lot of information to plumb here. But my point is, my prior decision-making had kicked in (the adrenalin surge) even sitting over a cup of coffee and only listening to an event that happened to somebody else.

So, do you have a policy or two of action if such an event happened to you? What about an earthquake or flood, or even a car accident? A little preparation can go a long way.

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum LondonImage via Wikipedia

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Rory Miller
Blog: Chiron Training Blog
Website: Chiron Training

Enter the Dragon

You have three minds. Depending on how you look at it, you may have more and in the end you only have one brain… but for our purposes you have three.

Your human mind is thoughtful and aware, reasonable if not always purely logical. You are not in this mode nearly as often as you think you are. When you are, you weigh the costs and do the right thing regardless. You live up to your highest ideals.

Your animal mind, your lizard brain, is older. It is concerned with you as a physical animal- it deals with danger and hunger and movement. When you are in your animal mind, you move like an animal, like an athlete. It is pure. It can be vicious and it is ruthless. It is older than human concerns like justice or mercy…

In the middle is your monkey mind. We evolved from social primates- animals that lived in tight groups completely dependent on the group for survival. Our interdependence drove an evolution toward social skills and social strategies to deal with conflict. Your monkey mind is concerned, always and obsessively, with what other people will think about you.

You are rarely in just your lizard mind. When absolute terror kicks in and you break out of fight-flight-freeze and just act, it is an animal thing. Sometimes a few feel it when they have trained for a long time and hit the zone, a mushin where they can act with absolute grace and without conscious thought. Many, today, only hit this zone playing video games, where they have trained to reflex on the controls and can play without registering what exactly they are pretending to do or caring who might see.

It is just as rare to be in your human mind. When you have done the right thing even though people you care about will be angry; when you have stood by the facts even though everyone said it was wrong… When Galileo recanted the truth out of fear of the church, he gave up his human mind and did what a monkey would do.

As much as we are ever just in one of these minds, it is the monkey. Obsessed with the tribe, with others: Angsting over how other people really feel, worrying whether someone really likes you, following celebrity gossip (on what world is it important who Angelina and Brad even are?) concerns about whether you blend in enough or stand out too much… This is monkey stuff. The insecurity of an animal who needs a community because it knows it is too weak to survive in the wild on its own.

The monkey mind interacts with the other two obsessively. When a gunshot goes off and people start looking around to see what other people are doing, that’s the monkey mind. When you don’t duck or hit the dirt because you are afraid of what people will think, that’s the monkey mind. And when your first instinct is to slam the door in a stranger’s face and you don’t because ‘that would be rude’ that is the monkey mind. In all of those cases, people have died or been raped because they were worried about what others would think.

It interferes with the human mind as well. Writers struggle constantly with the ‘inner critic’- the voice constantly whispering to them to give up, that they aren’t good enough, don’t know enough. The monkey mind is just as concerned with being too special, too successful, as it is with being rude or looking silly. Being too good can also push you out of the tribe. Monkeys die if they are alone.

Same with every incident of hiding the truth or ass-covering or sucking up: the monkey wants to belong, and that need to belong is more important than the truth or, often, even survival.

And that is huge, because the monkey mind doesn’t distinguish between physical death and humiliation or isolation. Any profound change in you, even learning a new skill, might terrify the monkey. It sees change as what some call “ego death”. Your monkey mind constantly fights to keep you in your comfort zone, where nothing changes. No matter how much that comfort zone sucks to your human mind (when you don’t live up to your potential; when you feel the shame of taking the easy way instead of the right way) or your lizard mind (and so people die rather than take the chance that fighting might be rude or running might seem cowardly). Your own monkey brain will fight you if what you need to do to survive might impact social standing.

This impacts martial artists profoundly. When training becomes a hierarchical series of ritual it recreates the monkey tribe. Socially secure, everyone knows their places and what to do… but that’s not really what martial arts is about. Is it?

When students are afraid to ask why or how something works, or when students continue to practice flawed technique because even though they can’t make it work it looks right, then the monkey has won.

Martial arts should be about the human mind and the lizard mind. Developing an ethical understanding of force and violence and educating and training an animal body to new levels of efficiency. Martial arts should be, fundamentally, about empowering students.

When the training caters to the monkey mind, it robs the students of power. It cripples students who may, some day, need to do the right thing (human brain) with absolute efficiency (lizard brain) to survive. The monkey has no place here.

When you silence the chattering monkey (meditation works for some, simply recognizing it works for others) and get the human mind and lizard brain to work together*, you have something new. Something that uses the human abilities and virtues- thoughtfulness, righteousness, planning, goal setting and decision making- with the deep abilities of the ancient lizard- efficiency, ruthlessness and absolute focus.

Enter the Dragon.

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