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Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Facing Violence

A while back, I wrote a short facebook status that said "Finished my first read through of Rory Miller's Facing Violence last night. Will be starting a second read through before reviewing it. Short version: if you teach or train self-defense, read this book."

Upon a second reading, my views have not changed substantively. Facing Violence is an extremely important book, and anyone who has any reason to want to understand how to deal with violence should read it. Martial artists and self-defense instructors will get the most value out of it, but it has ideas that are useful for LEO and Military Combatives trainers as well.

Facing Violence is broken into seven chapters:

1. Legal and ethical implications.
2. Violence dynamics.
3. Avoidance.
4. Counter-ambush.
5. Breaking the freeze.
6. The fight itself.
7. The aftermath.

The astute out there will notice that the book takes three chapters to even get to any kind of physical assault, and another two dealing with what is essentially the first micro second of the fight (the ambush moment). There is only a single chapter about the fight itself, despite the fact that that single chapter is where most martial artists spend the vast majority of their training time. Think about how backwards that is for a minute. Maybe longer.

The chapter on legal and ethical implications of violence is interesting. The legal advice is, by necessity, a bit generic, and Rory advises readers to check up on their local statutes. "A book I read by a guy from the Wet Coast said this was okay" is not a valid legal defense. The ethical ideas are more universally applicable, and approach some similar ground to ideas that Tony Blauer covers in his FEAR Management and Performance Enhancement Psychology material. One thing that Rory highlights nicely is the issue of "glitches": things that, rather than motivating you to fight, might cause you to hesitate when you might need to fight. That's a topic that rarely is addressed by instructors, but it may be just as important as finding the things that do motivate you.

The violence dynamics chapter is solid gold. Rory does a solid overview of different types of violence, how and why they occur, and why solutions for one type of violence may not be appropriate for the other. Rory draws a distinction between social and asocial violence, which I have found very useful in framing discussions about scenarios and training in general. There's some good advice here about how to tell what kind of violence you are dealing with, and what strategies may or may not work. And some good mental exercises as well.

The avoidance chapter drifts into territory that others have covered, but Rory has a lot of solid insights here as well. This is the first book I've read, for example, that actually tells the reader how to scan a room. I'm sure it has been written about in other places, but finally seeing an author say something more concrete than
"be aware of your surroundings" was refreshing beyond belief. Good stuff here.

The counter ambush chapter starts to get into some physical material, which adds two things. Drills, and pictures. Rory demonstrates his two preferred counter-ambush methods, the "Dracula's Cape" and the "Spear-head" entry. Rory covers using these methods for dealing with attacks from the front and behind, and some drills for drilling these entries.

It is solid material; I confess, I'm waxing less poetic about it because it covers a lot of the same ground that is covered in the SPEAR System, and I think that the SPEAR is a more refined teaching/training methodology for dealing with the same problem. That is not to say that Rory's methods don't work (please, please, do not think I am saying that), or that you shouldn't train them. It is a personal preference thing.

The chapter on breaking the freeze covers what happens immediately after the counter ambush. There is a tickle in the back of my brain about this chapter: in short, I worry about memorizing the idea that you WILL freeze, because, hey, maybe you won't? Rory may even mention this...I can't remember off the top of my head, and I don't have the book here in front of me. In any case, the freeze certainly happens, and Rory's advice for dealing with it is excellent. Some of it, interestingly, mirrored advice that I give to the students I tutor for the SAT. Different freeze, similar strategies.

The chapter on the fight itself is about fighting. It is is short, and to the point. It is more conceptual than drill oriented. If all you want is more stuff to add to your physical practice, Rory's Drills: Training for Sudden Violence covers his approach to this better. Of course, if that was all you were looking for, you missed the point of this book.

The chapter on the aftermath likewise covers those things that martial artists and self-defense instructors rarely cover, but need to, desperately. Not just the legal aftermath, but the emotional and psychological aftermath as well. There is advice here not only for survivors of violence, but also for instructors and concerned friends. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but for those who have never investigated this stuff, it's a pretty good start.

So who should read this? Again, just about anyone interested in self-defense, violence prevention, martial arts, or whatever. In some ways, Facing Violence is actually more accessible than Miller's previous book, Meditations on Violence, though both are excellent and well worth reading. It certainly is now on my fictitious required reading list (it's fictitious because there is no one who I actually impose such requirements on). Go read it.

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