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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Plutarch, Caius Marius, and the PDR System

Spent some time revisiting my roots as a student of classical history with a copy of Plutarch's Lives. I was primarily interested in refreshing my history while I was in places where that history happened, but in the process, I came across a lot of other interesting things.This is one from the Life of Gaius Marius.

Long story short: Marius has gone off with his army to fight a pack of barbarians (the Teutones and Ambrone, specifically). He sets up fortifications and waits, until the enemy shows up "in numbers beyond belief, of a terrible aspect, and uttering strange cries and shouts". A few of his soldiers are eager to go off and fight, but many of them are frightened. And understandably so. There's a huge hoard of strange, scary looking men out there, who look nothing like anything they've ever fought.

If this were a Hollywood movie, Marius would no doubt give some big rousing speech, and his soldiers would go off and whoop ass. Instead, Marius does something far more brilliant.

Thus he discoursed privately with his officers and equals, but placed the soldiers by turns upon the bulwarks to survey the enemy, and so made them familiar with their shape and voice, which were indeed altogether extravagant and barbarous, and he caused them to observe their arms, and way of using them, so that in a little time what at first appeared terrible to their apprehensions, by often viewing, became familiar. For he very rationally supposed, that the strangeness of things often makes them seem formidable when they are not so; and that by our better acquaintance, even things which are really terrible, lose much of their frightfulness. [Emphasis Mine]

What is particularly brilliant about Marius's strategy is that by allowing his soldiers to observe the enemy from a fortified position, he gives them the opportunity to de-mystify the threat in a perfectly safe way. Eventually, his soldiers move from a state of fear and anxiety to one of contempt for the barbarians. By the end of things, they are begging Marius to let them fight (and eventually they do).

At its core, this is the same methodology that we use in the Personal Defense Readiness System. By slowly and safely exposing people to the realities of violence, we eventually de-mystify those realities. Some of that de-mystification comes from the use of tools like statistics, video clips, and information on what criminals are really like. Some of it comes from drills, from slow-motion analysis like Emotional Climate Training to high speed, force-on-force training like a Ballistic Micro-Fight. How quickly the process moves depends very much on the student. Some people are ready to be exposed to a lot right away (or already have been). Some people need to build up more slowly. Either way, the basic process doesn't change.

It works for violence. It works for self-defense. Hell, it works for just about everything. Examine the thing that you are afraid of; slowly expose yourself to it. Understanding it. You don't have to like it, or be excited about it, but you can eventually learn how to manage it.

It worked two thousand years ago, and it still works today.

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