Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Donovan on Training




"I write for a species of man that does not yet exist."

-Nietzsche


Inspiring writing on training philosophy---S&C, MMA---and physical culture from Jack Donovan's excellent A Sky Without Eagles :

"Why bother?

"Given the investment of time and the potential loss of productivity, I think it's important to think about your motivation.  What reasons can justify working to become physically stronger or faster or more agile or more skillful than necessary to be 'fit enough' to survive in the modern environment?

"One could argue that the modern, First World lifestyle is unsustainable.  As any evolutionary biologist would point out, environments change, and part of being 'fit enough' means being able to survive potential changes to your environment.  It's naive to assume that things will always be as they are now.

"....Martial arts training is the manliest kind of training, because its end is directly related to the primary role of men---fighting and defending.  

"...A man can train to attract women, but men will admire him more if he trains to scare other men.  

"...Acting and behaving 'as if' brings me to the conclusion I finally reached in my own search for a higher, better reason for spending so many hours of my life in the gym, maintaining and improving my dying body.  

"I train for honor.

"I train because I refuse to be a soft ambassador of this Age of Atrophy.  And I refuse to be a shuffling, slobbering, potato chip gobbling evidence of modern decay.

"I refuse to be 'Exhibit A.'

"...The athletic potential of the male body is wasted on the modern world.  The best of us occupy ourselves by training to perform tricks and play games, but our bodies are built for work and for action.  Men are capable of Herculean labors, and the male machine wants, at the apex of its potential, to be hurled in a warp spasm of muscular inertia at danger and, ultimately, death.  

"I don't train to be 'fit enough' for the modern world, or to gain the esteem of the average modern man.  I train because somewhere in my DNA there's a memory of a more ferocious world, a world where men could become what they are and reach the most terrifyingly magnificent state of their nature.  I don't train to impress the majority of modern slobs.  I train to be worthy enough to *carry water* for my barbarian fathers, and to be worthy of the company of men most like them alive today..."





*****

This book practically crackles with powerful quotes and key insights.  In my view, Jack Donovan and his strategic partners at places like Pulse Firearms Training are really systematizing a new masculine synthesis that goes way beyond hobbies and side interests and into core lifestyle design and systems for potentiation of the human animal.  What a great group of guys.







Friday, April 18, 2014

Twenty-Five Quotes and Aphorisms from Nassim Taleb



1.  Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.

2.   An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant the opposite.

3.   You never win an argument until they attack your person.

4.   You don't become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.

5.   The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.



6.   Deficits are similar to carbs: the more you eat, the hungrier you get.

7. You have a real life when most of what you fear has the titillating prospect of adventure.

8.  I wonder if a lion (or a cannibal) would pay a high premium for free-range humans.

9.   You may not be able to change the world but can at least get some entertainment and make a living out of the epistemic arrogance of the human race. 



10.    Wittgenstein's Ruler: "Unless you have confidence in the ruler's reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler."

11.   If you want to get an idea of a friend's temperament, ethics, and personal elegance, you need to look at him under the tests of severe circumstances, not under the regular rosy glow of daily life. Can you assess the danger a criminal poses by examining only what he does on an ordinary day? Can we understand health without considering wild diseases and epidemics? Indeed the normal is often irrelevant. 

12.   Consider that the turkey's experience may have, rather than no value, a negative value. It learned from observation, as we are all advised to do (hey, after all, this is what is believed to be the scientific method). Its confidence increased as the number of friendly feedings grew, and it felt increasingly safe even though the slaughter was more and more imminent. Consider that the feeling of safety reached its maximum when the risk was at the highest! 



13.   The same past data can confirm a theory and its exact opposite! If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death.

14.   Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

15.   A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty. 




16.   A good maxim allows you to have the last word without even starting a conversation.

17.   It takes extraordinary wisdom and self-control to accept that many things have a logic we do not understand that is smarter than our own.

18.   If humans fight the last war, nature fights the next one. 

19.   Daily news and sugar confuse our system in the same manner. 

20.   A man is honorable in proportion to the personal risks he takes for his opinion.

21.   The weak shows his strength and hides his weaknesses; the magnificent exhibits his weaknesses like ornaments.





22.   You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

23.    In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it.


 




24.    Unlike a well-defined, precise game like Russian roulette, where the risks are visible to anyone capable of multiplying and dividing by six, one does not observe the barrel of reality.

25.   It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.

 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Seasteading Redux



One of my friends (and best students), Peter Parsley, is an ambassador for the Seasteading Institute.  The highly entrepreneurial Peter has put together a very nice introductory video on Seasteading, a topic which I briefly discussed here about four years ago..

Have a look and please contact Peter/Seasteading if you would like more info. 


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Septivium Begins





"All that is gold does not glitter,
  Not all those who wander are lost.
  The old that is strong does not wither,
   Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

   From the ashes a fire shall be woken.
   A light from the shadows shall spring.
   Renewed shall be blade that was broken.
   The crownless again shall be King."

-Tolkien


I apologize in advance for a long and fairly rambling post.  My intention with this one is to simply provide a bit more detail to the Septivium blueprint that I raised previously and to start getting feedback as I proceed in developing it.  It's very much a work-in-progress, so offering previews to any interested readers may lead me into all kinds of interesting areas that I would never have come up with on my own.

I will probably have to iterate through, change, and refine this information many times before it really can come to life.  The plan is ultimately a book-length treatment.   

Initial Caveats:  Politics and Religion

There are a couple of points regarding my own biases which I should state right from the beginning:

1.  Septivium idealizes personal freedom---including freedom from coercive force---as one of the defining achievements of a civil society.  Even when taken up individually, the disciplines involved in Septivium tend to make one increasingly skeptical about centralized socio-economic planning, and more and more inclined towards political libertarianism, perhaps even anarcho-capitalism. I have found that the people most inclined to pursue these study areas also tend to have a strong libertarian bent---either they started out that way or they became so inclined because of the effects of the training itself. 

I have also discovered that even something as seemingly apolitical as biohacking can draw opposition from fascinatingly broad factions along the political spectrum, with leftists worrying that it will increase social injustice and right-wingers believing that it involves playing God.  While both groups have historically pursued interests in eugenics programs, they appear to prefer that any tinkering takes place within a tight regulatory environment (Francis Fukuyama has argued that governments should "draw red lines" around certain biohacking practices). 

I am aware of concerns that widespread adoption of a Septivium-type self-development program would be dangerous from the perspective of social order, as it produced "living weapons, ungovernable and heavily armed human gunships piloted by flight crews of Selfish Genes", sort of piratical guys who pursued potentiated physical, cognitive, and psychological capabilities and who were motivated with highly individualistic agendas and loyalty to their cult (rather than towards the defined duties of the obedient nation-state subject). 

"Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as 'good', are simply demanding their right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth.  And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies.  Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed."

-Barry Goldwater

2.  Some aspects of this program view biological processes as a mix of information technology and organic chemistry.  To recap, DNA sits inside a cell nucleus that is protected by a regulatory protein sheath.  When DNA "decides" to do something, it dispatches a shorter version of itself---messenger RNA---that can cross the nucleus sheath and into the cell's cyotoplasm.  The mRNA then goes to visit little cellular 3D printing-type facilities called ribosomes; the ribosomes use the RNA as cookbook recipe directions for building proteins.  We are built of these proteins.



To influence phenotypic expression, one can use an "insertional vector" to get into the nucleus and change the genome itself---this is an enormously expensive undertaking, as it typically involves deliberate infection using a retrovirus that carries the new genetic information you wish to include---or one can use "non-insertional vectors".  The non-insertional vectors usually do not give permanent changes---i.e., they do not typically lead to gene-splices that get copied when a cell divides.  Rather, they have to be put into part of a lifestyle and administered again and again (as opposed to being inserted via a single exposure).

However, these methods can cause certain gene expressions to turn on and off, and some of these approaches can be "hacked" by manipulating the "exposome"---the epigenetic habitat and surrounding triggering mechanisms---in which the larger organism operates.  We will be giving much consideration to possibly useful types of cultivated exposome-manipulation; it's the central theme of the biohacking/biopunk community.

It may be useful from this POV to start thinking of food, sleep, even exercise and sex as drugs or medicines or supplements which can have particular effects on physiology and subjective experience.

This is clearly a secular humanist approach to research, and some more religious parties may find it troubling.  I have dealt with this type of thing before---some of my best college students have been religious young people who were able to take my use of something like evolutionary psychology and covert it or transform it into practical information that still fit within their belief systems.  If you are similar to these students, then you may find that a few of my Septivium-recommended practices which initially seem to be at odds with your religious convictions can be similarly modified so that you can use them for performance without necessarily buying into my particular explanations for why they work.

Polyspecialization 

Just to recap, Septivium---"The Seven Ways"---is meant to serve as a holistic, differentiated, and integrated system for lifelong learning and personal development.  Septivium is a creative, artisanal production process that is hopefully going to help create what a good friend of mine has termed "The Sovereign Man."  I believe that the Sovereign Man concept is being developed as we speak; I will no doubt modify Septivium in response to work being done in that area, because this system is my own take on a much broader new masculine synthesis that is being put together in different ways by various communities and enclaves.

I picked up the term "polyspecialization" in the book Mindhacker recently and really liked it. Here are how the authors, Ron and Marty Hale-Evans, define the term:

"Why not become a polyspecialist?  That's our word for someone who knows a lot about multiple things, and a little about even more.  The emphasis of the polyspecialist is *neither* on extreme depth in one subject nor on broad but shallow understanding of the whole world of human knowledge.  Instead, the emphasis is on a deep understanding of several subjects together with a nodding acquaintance of many more, incidentally acquired during study...Any individual area of a polyspecialist's study may be useful, but the real power lies in how those areas complement one another..."

Septivium, then, is my own best attempt at polyspecialization.  I will never be superb in any of the disciplines, but I hope to eventually be pretty good in all of them (I personally define "pretty good" as being able to teach the subjects at a graduate program level, or to possess an equivalent level of in-field performance capability).   This is probably going to take the rest of my life to achieve, and unfortunately development in one or more domains may be offset by deterioration in others due to the physical impacts of age if nothing else.   I think this just has to be accepted and we need to do the best we can about fighting the clock.  In the movies, actors playing Batman or 007 can just be replaced with a younger model.  Real life is not so forgiving. 

Each of the "Ways" actually encompasses a family of disciplines, and each of those disciplines could *easily* fill decades of study.  So it is important to realize that one should not expect to become a world-class performer in any of these areas.  However, we get a strong headwind with the Septivium arts because it is my contention that these are not truly disparate, randomly assembled, independent disciplines.  Rather, I firmly believe that they share a grand "source art", a sun which they orbit like planets in a solar system.  This source art is the overlapping area which supercharges polyspecialization.

The essence of polyspecialization is, to me, the identification and cultivation of a grand source or supersystem which reveals itself in many exciting, superficially unrelated individual arts and sciences.  It potentially allows for deep insights as the boundaries between the various disciplines become less and less distinct.




The particular disciplines included in this approach reflect the kind of curriculum that I believe that a fictional order of totally badass, elite assassins like the League of Shadows or Faceless Men of Braavos would push in their internal training programs for new associates.  I personally find this almost sexually exciting---from my perspective, someone who was really good in all of the Septivium areas would be supremely cool to hang out with and talk to. Your perspective probably will be different, but you can still use that "coolness" standard as a template for your own version of Septivium, because it is very hard to be enthusiastic over the long term about something that you don't feel is incredibly cool.

Septivium's Ways are:

Way #1.  Lifestyle Design as a Cognitive and Metabolic Dominance (CogDom; MetDom) Platform.  We're talking about becoming a real carnivore, a keto-adapted athlete with an emphasis on combat sports and on biohacks that support the ketogenic lifestyle, plug some potential health-related holes, and enhance performance.

The winner is the athlete for whom defeat is the least acceptable rationalization."

-Tim Noakes

This topic will occupy the next several posts on this blog, so I'll just leave Way #1 as a placeholder right now. 

Way #2.  Strategic Thinking System via 1) Big History, 2) Evolutionary Psychology, 3) Microecon (in this case, Austrian Economics and Public Choice, plus some limited Game Theory), 4) Decision Science (heavy on models of "ecological rationality" or "naturalistic decision-making"), 5) Military Strategy, and 6) Worldly Philosophy mixed with contemporary Positive Psychology (the ancients and modern researchers have come to many of the same conclusions about what makes a human being reach his highest potential).

This part has turned out to be a really ambitious undertaking and I actually became a part-time college professor specifically to work through it.  A couple of quick notes here:

First, some of the people that I have discussed Septivium with have already brought up the gaps in the strategy disciplines outline that I put together.  For instance, I do not include cross-cultural anthropology, great works of art and literature, sociology, and so on in the group.  I concede that these all should be studied to whatever extent is possible.

Perhaps the best way I can explain my reasoning behind the Septivium emphasis would be to use the metaphor of a raging river.  Imagine that the river represents a torrent of information and experience, both signal content and noise.




A man wishes to move from one side of the river---"blind strategic ignorance"---to the other side---"competence in strategic thinking."  Let's pretend that in order to cross the river he must choose a path created by big boulders which have fallen into the river.  If he falls in he is going to face a very rough time.

When choosing a path, the man wants to see two things in the pattern of boulders that he selects:

1.  Collectively, the pattern of rocks must effectively span the breadth of the river.

This translates into collecting disciplines which, particularly when put together into a system, do create very good strategic thinkers.

2.  Individually, the rocks must be placed close enough together that it is possible to hop from one or another.  The span between rocks cannot be too excessive.

This translates into having some cross-over, momentum, or efficiency gained by overlapping areas between the fields of study, so that skill in one area will give you a head start when you jump to the next metaphorical boulder. 

Another related term for 1 and 2 combined would be "MECE"  ("mee-see"), or categorization using a list schema that is "mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive."   The individual items are meant to be distinct enough from one another that they can and should be listed separately, but when combined they must "span the river."   For polyspecialization purposes, I am adding the requirement that the items have enough commonality within their basic assumptions and models that it is possible to become reasonably competent in all of them within a normal human lifetime. 

I readily confess that some of the "boulders"---the disciplines---that I have excluded from Septivium do contribute a great deal to knowledge on the subject.  However, many of them (in my opinion) will turn out to offer lessons that are redundant with those found in existing Septivium subjects, and/or they will be located so far in isolation of the other rocks that it is very difficult to reach them without becoming something of a dedicated specialist in that rock.  The gap between typical sociologist and evolutionary psychologist positions, for example, is frequently so wide that it is difficult to synthesize the two without using so many caveats that you effectively say nothing at all. 

I want to be continually conscious of the fact that these are all *huge* areas of study---there are specialists who have devoted their entire lives to only a single aspect of, say, decision science, and many of them still are uncomfortable saying that they are "experts" in even that area.  So if you run into someone who claimed to be an "expert strategist" you should probably immediately be concerned that this person may lack any real professional respect for his or her own subject matter. 

Second, please note that I am talking about strategic thinking, *not* strategic planning.  I am well aware that strategic planning has become something of a joke in the decision sciences, as it tends to rely on optimism about forecasting ability that is no longer considered serviceable after guys like Phil Tetlock and Nassim Taleb have rather thoroughly dealt with forecasting-related problems and the dismal track record that "experts" reveal in this area.



The process of planning is very valuable, for forcing you to think hard about what you are doing, but the actual plan that results from it is probably useless.

-Marc Andresesen

High-performance strategy formulation has since become more about management of a portfolio of limited-liability strategic options than going "all-in" on massive directional bets.   The emerging state-of-the-art decision synthesis attempts to unify both Kahnemanian Type 1 and Type 2 decision systems (intuition and formal analysis) by mastering "sophisticatedly simple" heuristics; it avoids irrational escalation of commitment, overbetting, and playing negative expectancy games at all; and when used in an adversarial sense it creates shock in opponents by controlling situational tempo.

 For each of the half-dozen strategic studies disciplines I want to concisely describe:

A) A Canon (a relatively small set of core instructional materials that an interested person should read)

B) Most-Used Mental Models (simplified as much as possible, these represent the ways in which experts in these fields process information and view the social world)

C) A Skill-Building Methodology (a set of practical exercises or study habits which someone can use to pursue competence in these areas)

D) Applied:  Structured Analytic Techniques (these are the applied, formal frameworks that an expert would use for problem-solving)

E) Applied:  Heuristics (these are the fast, in-field decision rules that an expert would use if he or she did not have time to employ structured analytics)

All of these tools are meant to be used to develop Situational Awareness (SA) of a given problem space, and an understanding of cultural nuance as it will place constraints on later tactical decision-making.  We ideally want 360-degree SA as quickly as possible via some outside research, but mostly from the "groundtruth" developed from putting a highly educated and trained analyst in the field, and allowing an operator to plan his own missions and to own the intellectual material that goes into such plans.

The Strategic Thinking System I will be discussing in the Septivium material is meant to be employed by the person who is actually tasked with executing a given strategy; I believe in things being developed and boot-strapped from the grassroots by super-empowered, entrepreneurial individuals, rather than execution being managed from afar via edicts or advice given by outside individuals---individuals who are not participating in the risk and reward structure of the given game and who are not really exposed to any resulting market- or battlefield-disciplines that will be imposed on bad ideas (the first questions you should ask of someone offering outside strategic counsel---even before hearing the pitch---are usually "how do you develop SA/groundtruth where *my* localized problem space is concerned?" and "who really gets hurt if you turn out to be wrong?"   Make sure you are satisfied with these even before you hear the proposal). 

When it comes to tactical applications, I will frequently be incorporating something that decision scientists call "Scan To Task".  Scan To Task means that the decision-maker will normally look at a series of problems and a series of resources, and start assigning open resources to open problems without attempting to optimize resource-problem fit until much later.  This prevents analysis-paralysis and jump starts the problem-solving process; it requires experience and composure to pull off.



Scan To Task is a "satisficing" rather than "optimization" strategy in most cases because it plugs a hole to some minimum standard and then moves on to address another hole.  It's basically a format that is more appropriate for fluid, reactionary situations like crisis management than it would be if you were dealing with problems that held still for long periods of time.  Most of the problems that I will be discussing do not hold still. 

Several of my colleagues who read this blog are familiar with some of the more theoretical work I have done on the transition from structured analytic techniques used by experts to adaptive heuristics which can be used under field conditions.   Part of the value of Septivium for me is in trying to present these ideas for consideration by a wider audience and for possible application to many different fields of activity.

 There are a couple of rules which must be followed for all of this to work:

1.  Situational Awareness is king.  SA must be developed by deep, first-hand experience with a given domain or milieu; strategic and tactical tailoring are bespoke rather than one-size-fits-all.  Decision-making should be decentralized so that a trained, empowered man on the ground can make the call. 

2.  Go Bayesian.  For social systems that impose emerging trend/unstable volatility characteristics, Bayesian statistics has taken a position of prestige, while naive frequentist models are generally seen as amateur hour stuff.

I realize that this is getting into some jargon, so I should probably give an example of how Bayesian and frequentist models differ in practical application, and why Bayesian stuff is seen as more "ecologically adaptive" under certain conditions.  Imagine this pair of problems, which I have borrowed from a textbook on the subject of adaptive decision-making:

1.  You want to buy the most reliable car possible and have two brands to choose from:  Saab and Volvo.  A discussion of Volvo and Saab automobiles in a leading consumer advocacy/testing magazine reveals that, over the past ten years, the Volvo has been judged by experts to be about five times as safe as the equivalent Saab (don't take this literally---I made this up).  

However, your neighbor has a Volvo and was involved in an accident just yesterday, and now she is in the hospital with serious injuries.   

Now consider this scenario:

2.  You live in a rain forest and have to decide where you will allow your 5-year-old son to play today.  There are two activity options:  climbing trees or swimming in the nearby creek.  You consult village records and find that, over the past ten years, five children from your village have died falling from trees, while only one has died from swimming in the creek.  

However, that child who died was eaten by a large crocodile yesterday. 

Most models of human decision-making rationality look at situations like Volvo vs. Saab and conclude that the use of frequentist statistics is appropriate and rational.  Someone who rejected the statistically-safer Volvo would be acting irrationally based on a silly cognitive bias like the "availability heuristic".

However, the assumption made in this scenario is that the design and production of both types of car are stable and fixed quantities.  What if we are dealing with a system that is NOT stable, a dynamic environment in which risk factors can quickly change?  Tree vs. Creek does not offer the comforting, sterile consistency of the automotive comparison-shopping example---the jungle represents a realistic, unpredictable system.  We intuitively know that in this dark world it is very possible that a family of hungry crocs recently moved into the creek, an event which literally would change everything for this village.  In this case, pure frequentist statistics would NOT work well and the best decisions would involve "Bayesian updating."

Bayesian thinking will help prevent the strategic analyst from falling for a major trap in strategic thinking, the so-called "Halo Effect".  Many researchers, particularly in management studies, have fallen victim to this trap.  The Bayesian material is extraordinarily rich and relevant to all manner of risk-taking endeavors, so I will endeavor to give it a thorough-but-practical treatment later.

 Some of this stuff does get a bit technical and "math-y", but take heart in two things:

1.  Robert Barro at Harvard has argued that a single standard deviation gain in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)-related test scores among the general student population boosts a country's economic growth rates by about 100 basis points, which is an enormous gain from a development econ perspective.

2.  I was an undergrad English major and had to learn a lot of this stuff on the fly, first during the stress of multiple, fairly quantitative graduate programs, and then in the viciously Darwinian world of black-box leveraged derivatives trading.  As a young man I liked Homer and Chaucer, but did not like calculus.  So if I can learn this stuff, so can any of you.  

Way #3.  Study of Fighting.  In a nutshell, this discipline is where MMA meets high-end private-sector gunfighter/solo tactical training.

I assume that the value of MMA training for building terrifying fighters is evident at this point.  Because we are dealing with a contextual sheath that has no weight classes and allows sucker-punching, weapons, multiple assailants beating down one guy, and a legal system which can allow *completely untrained and uneducated (about fighting) individuals* to spend months in a comfortable courtroom second-guessing and armchair-quarterbacking the split-second decisions and actions of the man in the arena, we will also need some street-oriented situational awareness-type material and relevant, basic survivability/tradecraft habits.

There will be some bias towards "Sprawl & Brawl" approaches that keep you on your feet during the fight, but let's be honest---a lot of fights go to the ground even in situations in which NEITHER participant wanted them to, let alone if one guy was good at takedowns.  You need to be a dangerous man on the ground. 




There are some thorny, non-trivial tactical problems that come up when one primarily works alone and with a very small logistical/support footprint, and so I will turn to far tougher guys for advice.   Some of those guys have already been introduced in previous posts. 

Using the analogy of a car's transmission:  I think that the basic idea is that if this was a stickshift you would get up to about high-rev 3rd gear using a militarized, hybrid MMA/practical shooting system for fighting, but after that you probably have to diverge a bit from where many full-time professional operators would normally go and instead work more reactive street, vehicle, and home-defense type problems.

So let's immediately dispense with any illusions about ever being able to go toe-to-toe with a world-class operator in said operator's full-mission-profile tactical environment.  Even with huge amounts of training and discipline, you will probably be about a solid 3rd gear operator---a C+ or B- level grade point average---at best if you were for some inconceivable reason ever put in a professional operator's team-based, complex-missions/complex-tactics world.  There is just a hell of a lot you need to know how to do to play that game, and just as importantly that knowledge is perishable.

It is important to be humble and to give the real professionals their due.   However, Septivium has a more generalist, "highly capable Sovereign Man" orientation.  You could be able to go to 4th or even 5th gear in a different, more self-protection-oriented program, and this is the one that most people could really need in a real-life situation.  These more individualistic pursuits also provide direct building materials to develop the all-around confidence and peace of mind that naturally come with being so well-prepared for a violent physical emergency.

(Note:  it goes without saying that full-time operators can easily modify Septivium for their own ends)

In many of these self-protection problems, being ambushed (or executing a hasty ambush on someone else) is a real likelihood and escape would be considered a victory.  This is an important point, because the cultivation of a mindset which allows for deterrence, avoidance, de-escalation, and escape and considers these all to be wins does not always come easily to people who train specifically to dominate fights.  This is different---you aren't just fighting a man, you are fighting an uncertain and very dangerous tactical situation that was probably thrust upon you at a time and location that were not your choosing.   The situation is the Great White shark, and this can eat you even if you would normally be able to readily take your opponent out in the different context of a fair one-on-one fight.  Here, you will normally want to get off the X as soon as you can. 

Fighting Style:  Art and Science

The integrated use of empty-hands, AR (both for shooting and as an impact weapon), handgun, and a small, fast-access, ambi-oriented fixed-blade knife (I personally prefer push daggers, but there are many ways to skin the cat) will be explored as a solution for in extremis, totally out-of-control close-range problems.

From the standpoint of statistical decomposition, you are probably talking at the most dangerous end of the continuum about a fight that involves putting 1-2 magazines of rounds into 1-3 bad guys at a range from approx. 1 to about 50 meters, with shooting positions being primarily offhand with angular movement or rough- supported off of a barricade, in an encounter that lasts less than a minute between the first and last shots fired.  The fight probably takes place at night and in a relatively low-SES urban environment, and involves either a single emotionally disturbed person with a weapon (sometimes two) or a small group of predatory criminals.

A significant percentage of these encounters take place in parking lots outside of bars or nightclubs, at gas station/convenience stores, and in ambush-friendly areas adjacent to ground public transportation lines.  Home invasion is another possibility that should be considered.

The relatively short ranges involved in these fights are not an excuse for having low marksmanship standards and do not mean that we can accept slop from rounds fired:  on the contrary, the required precision or technical demands on the shooter to make some of these shots should be assumed to be quite high (missed rounds not only mean a threat that is still there, but these rounds are now heading into the community and possibly into the wrong people), as should the urgency of being able to identify friend and foe before taking a shot.   

The chances of you having a helmet, plate carrier, war belt, ear protection, night optics, hydration bladder, and various other types of supporting gear with you during this fight are not very high at all unless you are willing to go to some lifestyle extremes that very few people are willing to go to (and which may present some new problems). I think that you should still enjoy these things for other reasons, that you should not apologize for them or feel that these interests need to be justified on practical grounds, and that a limited paramilitary capability is a positive, alpha-male thing to cultivate, perhaps even a contemporary expression of budo-type ideals. 



...but we also need to be reasonable.  We probably should do what a lot of the best guys in this very particular game do and learn to do the bulk of our "tactical" work out of high-end camera bags or other forms of compact, shoulder-carried luggage, and otherwise look at what we realistically will have with us.   

If it is an unarmed fight, it will probably consist of one very exciting and glycogen-depleting round of headhunting strikes, primarily big punches (but then again you never know), followed by either one guy getting dropped by a hit to the face or being taken down via deliberate or accidental grappling.  If neither party is skilled, a headlock will somehow/probably turn up in that mess somewhere. The guy who ends up on the bottom faces the threats of ground-and-pound and/or a "boot party".  The main submissions used---infrequently used, but still in there---are the guillotine and the rear naked choke. 

That's not to say that longer distances, more opponents, and so on are not possible, but it probably is fair to say that as a self-protection-minded individual you should make sure that you own the main sphere first before worrying too much about those more exotic sorts of problems, deciding if 5x magnification is sufficient top-end on your variable optic, etc.

In terms of prioritizing training, I think that a useful way to start *if you are quite aggressive about this* would to look at formal (coached) training following a 20:3:1 split between MMA: handgun: rifle.  So, on paper, for every 25 hours of formal instruction in MMA you would want to have 3 hours of formal handgun training and 1 hour of formal rifle training.  In practice, however, it will probably work more like this for an annual training plan:

-During that twelve month period, attend a 3-day tactical carbine course with approximately 24 hours of total training (3x8 hours)

-During that twelve month period, attend three 3-day  handgun courses, each with approximately 24 hours of total training, for 72 hours of handgun.

-During that twelve month period, complete a little less than 500 hours of MMA training (10 hours per week x 50 weeks)

So an aggressive, ambitious plan for most people would be to do 1-2 classes of MMA and/or related combat sports disciplines per day, 5-6 days per week, and to do a high-end private-sector shooting course every quarter.  It may not sound particularly intense, but I actually doubt that there are more than about 200 civilian guys in the country who actually do this:  there are a lot of people who are religious about training MMA stuff, but who don't shoot very much; and there are a lot of shooters who practically collect training courses---some probably do a course once per month rather than once per quarter---but who do not do any combat sports.

The age demographics involved in serious MMA and tactical shooting tend to be very different, too. Tactical shooting is an expensive hobby; the start-up costs to set up the gear can be substantial, particularly if the top-shelf stuff is involved, and attending even a single high-end class can cost almost as much as a year's worth of MMA training at a reputable gym (when one includes travel and ammunition expenses).  As a result, the guys who can afford to do this stuff to be north of 35.  These same "older" guys may find MMA to be too physical, and to have trouble fitting daily classes into the work schedule that they need to maintain in order to be able to afford the tactical training every few months (!).    

If you are a full-time operator, you might need to reverse the split and do 20:3:1 in a Rifle: Handgun: MMA pattern, simply because you fight with rifles so much and need to be so good with that weapon.   

People are no doubt going to disagree with my positions on a lot of this stuff.  Fighting style ultimately becomes a deeply personal affair:  past experiences and natural proclivities play huge roles in how someone evolves as a fighter over time. My waza was shaped by some influential training experiences I have had; after a short time, one finds commonality between, say, the aggressive Muay Thai-based MMA program taught at some great striking-centric gyms and the offensive mindset and supporting techniques taught by a noted multigun shooting instructor and competitor like Bennie Cooley or all-around operator like Travis Haley.




*Feel free to skip the following if you don't train in grappling/MMA.* 

Let me further this point about my biases by getting fairly specific here with a martial arts-related example:  in the grappling domain, I tend to use the overhook quite frequently, and this bias will show up in Septivium.  I do not come from a college or even high school wrestling background and have had to deal with All-American level wrestlers for years.  These men are professionals at getting underhooks in the clinch; much of their lives has been spent getting really, really good at this.  You are naive if  you believe that you can "out-underhook" an elite wrestler with any degree of reliability.

I found that I was able to successfully pummel for underhooks in a semi-cooperative training environment, but this artificial success led to me developing a false sense of clinch security:  when we really went live and made it competitive, the great wrestlers would always get the underhooks on me, and when I tried to repummel I would get dumped (usually by a standard, running-the-pipe high-single leg takedown). If I just sagged and made space I would get pushed around and eventually dirty-boxed against the wall in a grindy, unpleasant way.  And then I would get dumped.  So to make a long story short I was more or less forced to develop some semblance of a viable overhook/whizzer game in the clinch.

If I am fighting in the clinch, I may try to pummel for unders once or twice.  If this doesn't work, I go for the whizzer.  For a variety of reasons---many of them having to do with my whizzer-based throw attempt (harai goshi and seoi nage both can work well off the whizzer) failing and turning into a wild scramble with both of us ending up on the ground---a lot of my guard game off of my back uses an underhook on my left side to try to take away the other guy's big overhand right and hammerfist right---two staples of heavy ground & pound---while working to get my right knee in front of his left shoulder (I believe that BJ Penn calls this position the "Damn Good Guard").  Assuming I get guard I will usually try a couple of explosive sweeps first and/or to stand up out of guard, but if these fail I may be in for a long siege and that overhook can be really important to limit the damage you will begin to sustain.

*MMAspeak ends*

Way #4.  Study of Interpersonal Influence and Strategic Social Dynamics.

Here I will be expanding on the "ATTiC" construct that I have mentioned in previous threads and that I use in my Strategic Social Dynamics (SSD) course as the general framework for exploring social influence scenarios.  By the way, ATTiC is Kenny Brown's invention and he deserves full credit---I got it from him.

To recap, ATTiC refers to:

Agent----Target----Tactics---Context

The Agent is the person trying to persuade someone else.  The Target is that someone else.  The Tactics are the influence methods that the Agent employs during the activity.  The Context is the pre-existing social environment in which this all takes place. 

This framework has proven to be extremely useful for analyzing a very wide range of interpersonal domains, from political campaigning to seduction, from hostage negotiation to used-car sales. It ultimately becomes a kind of mandala that you use to ponder deeper structures to interpersonal relations.

I have found that, frequently, students underestimate the effects that Context in particular play in making a Target agree to comply with an Agent's persuasion request.  The impact of this variable is actually really tremendous; Context is like the "Unknown Stuntman" of the influence domain.   It deserves equal attention to that given to the others: if you get the Context right, the precise mix of Tactics used often don't matter very much at all, and a David can sometimes triumph over a Goliath. 

SSD will take the grand lessons about human behavior from the Strategic Thinking System and apply them in the sphere of actual social relations.  This will mean both preparing what can be prepared in advance and being able to adapt very rapidly to the dance of human relations. 

"I try to plan, in your sense of the word, but that isn't my basic mode, really.  I improvise.  It's my greatest talent.  I prefer situations to plans, you see..."

-Wintermute the AI in William Gibson's Neuromancer

I will import the concepts of "tempo" and "narrative mental models" that have been put forward by a dark sorcerer of independent decision science named Venkatesh Rao.  They will be primarily useful in analysis of the Target's meta-models or stories by which he or she tries to make sense of the world ("sensemaking" is the current term du jour) and to achieve SA.  If the details of this model or story are also known to to the Agent, the Agent can use this information to very heavily influence the Target's decisions (by fitting into the pre-formed narrative and then increasing or decreasing the tempo---the energy and emotions and sense of time/location---that the Target experiences).

This probably sounds mystical or metaphysical, and it will no doubt deserve much explication on my part and much skeptical critique and modification from interested readers.  I want to make it as concrete and resonant as possible

We will also find that human social behavior in a tactical context displays strong evidence of momentum, or serial correlation, characteristics, while over much longer periods of time we usually see more evidence of reversion to the mean.   This means that, in the short term of an immediate compliance request, a social influence operator or Agent may start with the best package and presentation possible, but then must adjust dynamically in response to the Target's feedback.

Generally speaking, winning positions reveal themselves quickly, while losing positions are equally compelling and will not get much better with more time (at least over the immediate, more tactical time horizons of a compliance request).  You will usually scale into winning positions rapidly and press the good energy up-tempo, while attempting to de-conflict or de-escalate social losing positions just as rapidly (i.e., using the positive aspects of psycho-social momentum when something is going your way and thus reinforcing the trend, but *avoiding* the negative aspects of momentum when something is going against you).  



Another way of putting it:  from a social dynamics/persuasion perspective, you're a lion when things are going well and a wraith when they are not.

We will also find that most people suffer---reliably---from multiple cognitive blind-spots or biases such as biased self-attribution, and that these blind-spots are leverage points for skilled persuaders.  In addition, there is often a gap between the narratives that people use to reduce cognitive dissonance and the actual heuristic they use to make real-world decisions. Narratives and mental models can be constructed differently and based on different experiences; if someone is not aware of a difference (and frequently people do not have conscious accessibility to their actual real-world heuristics), the spread between them can be potentially "arbitraged" by an Agent.

The link between strategic analytical skills and Strategic Social Dynamics is obvious, but I should  also a tremendous interplay between SSD and the biohacking material.  In studies of monkey dominance hierarchies, for example, researchers deliberately destabilized the existing hierarchies by removing the alpha male of each social system.  One male monkey in each experiment was given the anti-depressant Prozac; the Prozac-treated monkeys normally became the new alpha males, with all of the nice treats that were attendant to such status.  Prozac of course is known to effectively increase seratonin levels in the brain; in the chaotic power vacuum that followed monkey hierarchy "regime change", the Prozac-treated monkeys had suppressed submission reflexes and were able to establish themselves as natural leaders, dominant, etc. by showing lower stress reactivity. 

Way #5.  Study of AIS-APPLE (Alternative Investment Strategies, Asset Protection, Privacy, and Lean Entrepreneurship).  This mix could be seen as the money-generator of the Septivium approach.

The AIS area that I will focus most on is the global macro hedge fund strategy space for analytical firepower, and systematic/black-box CTA for actual trade execution (for those who are actual traders and willing to get into the futures markets) and for thinking about risk management and the mathematics of gambling (for most people).  The relationship between these two can be volatile because they often have very different risk management appetites, but I believe that they can be used together.  


"...and that, my friends, is how Kingslayer Capital Management, a crisis-hunting global macro hedge fund which specializes in paramilitary activity, shorting sovereign debt, and arbitraging political risk, was born."

Here is some stuff to get you going if this is new to you and you are interested...  When I teach my Global Macro course I typically assign the following book as part of the class:

The Invisible Hands

...students have given me generally good feedback about it.  

Overarching theories for development economics are a critical, underutilized input for global macro analysis. These attempt to define what makes some countries/peoples so rich and others so poor.  I'm personally partial to the Easterly school of development for reasons that will probably be readily apparent, so I'm probably going to add the Professor's newest one to the course book list:

The Tyranny of Experts

 Asset Protection is a study of ways to avoid losing one's assets during a hostile legal event like a lawsuit or divorce.  It goes extremely well with the hedge fund material. Privacy will mean protecting one's sensitive information; it goes extremely well with the Asset Protection material.  Much more on these later. 

Lean Entrepreneurship (LE) is a relatively recent trend in management studies which looks at the market as a complex system and resists traditional business planning in favor of decentralized testing and evolutionary or organic models of company growth and performance (i.e., it pays homage to Austrian economics).  It is "lean" because it avoids high initial expenses and instead "bootstraps" itself up as customer discovery and product-market fit are developed---these are directly analogous to Situational Awareness in the strategic and tactical domains. 

I find that LE is a particularly practical sub-discipline within AIS-APPLE because the methodologies have been codified by great thinkers (usually coming from STEM backgrounds and now having to figure out the social dynamics of starting and running businesses).  They lend themselves to a way of thinking about all manner of new projects and undertakings---LE is by no means limited to tech start-ups.  The desire to "stay in the problem space" as long as possible is similar to developing Situational Awareness in a military context, while the distinction between pivot and optimization stages of entrepreneurial activity calls to mind a famous essay by Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi on the differences he found between "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" forms of scientific research.

If you want to start getting into this stuff, let me recommend a short, inexpensive, accessible, and informative general treatment of the subject:

The Customer Discovery Matrix

LE represents a way of thinking about new undertakings that really mobilizes and enhances the strategic thinking and SSD curricula, and leads them towards tangible entrepreneurial goals. 

Way #6.  Development of a Survivalist Capability.  The peculiar Septivium approach to survivalism will focus less on primitive living or achieving a spiritual union with nature and more with an emergency that *starts off* with an accident or trauma that has immediately posed potentially life-threatening medical challenges.  It will assume that outdoors survival and medical emergencies frequently come together in an unpleasant package deal, and so a self-medical capability, navigation, and redundant communications may make all the difference.  Once again, I have to rely on far more knowledgeable friends for assistance in this area.  

Thus. there will be relatively few optimistic assumptions made about availability of, say, natural resources for fire or shelter-building in the survival environment, or even assumptions about the survivor being able to operate at full physical work capacity.  Imagine a NASCAR pit crew changing a tire and this is my basic template for how many survival tasks should be approached:  speed, efficiency, technology, etc.

For better or worse, this attitude reflects my own journey where the subject is concerned.  I've become more interested in the expedition planning and skills side and less interested in the primitive living side, and, as a result, I personally no longer give much time to fire-by-friction, snare-construction, debris hut construction, and so on.  These are very valuable skills and I have taken survival courses that were centered on them, but when you do this training you start to realize that things can go really, really wrong if you have not prepared well and considered contingencies and equipment needs in advance.

I still have a lot of respect for some of the primitive skills instructors and schools and can see how this training builds a confidence and resilience that my more technology-driven would lack:  the Septivium focus will be on the 48-72 hours of an emergency and will more or less presume that civilization as a whole is still functioning elsewhere.  If bad things were to go on for much longer and the disaster radius was increased, the primitive skills would become more and more important and my personal focus would be less and less useful.

The Survivalist material will probably consist of three major classes of problems:

1.  Bushcraft Problem.  "Something went wrong"---vehicle breakdown OR being exposed to unexpectedly severe weather conditions during foot travel OR a  medical emergency while in the outdoors OR a compound event that includes 2 or more of these factors.   In any case, the assumption is that you need to stabilize the medical situation as best as possible, avoid taking further damage from the elements, and get yourself extracted. It's ok to call for help...

2.  Bug-Out Problem.  You start in an urban area.  Something goes *really* wrong.   You need to gather your deployable supplies (or steal them), and need to access an appropriate mode of transportation (possibly steal one) and go somewhere else.  I think that having some quasi-criminal skills can be important here---B&E, grand theft auto, etc.. 

3.  Bug-In Problem.  Something goes wrong in the larger, outside world, and you need to hunker down at home. This is traditional "prepper" territory; Septivium's take will be fairly moderate by some of those standards, but will include a plan for *trying* to rapidly scale up the preparations if certain macroeconomic event catalysts in fact do occur. 

I should say that some very sophisticated global macro hedge fund investors have now become dedicated Preppers, to the point of taking physical delivery of some of their gold trades (normally commodity futures  trades are closed or rolled at contract expiration without any physical delivery taking place.  Physical delivery is a pretty big deal in most markets).  Keep in mind what they know that most people probably do not... 

At least some minimum level of equipment will be assumed in all three cases---it will be assumed that we have considered these as potential contingency scenarios and that appropriate technologies were incorporated into our risk management solutions. 

Way #7.  Becoming an Adventurer. 



This is sort of the flip-side of the Survivalist material---if you use the other aspects of Septivium to make yourself very fit and capable, with layered defenses against multiple possible threats, you can go out into the world and take calculated risks.  The Adventurer is in a very real sense built on the other six.

This is probably where there will be a lot of divergence between Septivium and the paths that readers decide to take.  If you are a "dopamine junkie" like myself, this will flow logically from the others.  However, those who have a more traditional and duty-bound perspective on the world my agree with me about Ways One through Six, but feel that the Adventurer material has far less appeal.  They may wish to replace this one with a goal/identity which fits within the responsibilities and concerns that they have---perhaps philanthropy, perhaps some kind of civic involvement, perhaps family.

Based on preliminary discussions with friends, it appears that the Adventurer in particular is a fairly arbitrary component based largely on my own personality.  The other ones have generally seemed pretty obvious, even if friends disagreed about my take on them or with something that I tend to emphasize here or there.  

Septivium will have a heavy emphasis on planning, organizing, and leading expedition-style adventures for private-sector groups of 1-6 people.  The best single source for this material that I have found is:

RGS Expedition Handbook

My approach is going to be necessarily very general and more about the process of getting going and the arguments in favor of doing it than about any particular adventure.  I look forward to getting your feedback on this stuff and on compiling various lists of recommended equipment, trips, and techniques.   


....
Conclusion:  The Lords of Chaos

These really are not completely separate disciplines:  for example, Lifestyle Design and Strategic Thinking  lend themselves naturally to Fighting and Strategic Social Dynamics.   Fighting essentially "weaponizes" the first two meta-disciplines, while SSD uses them as springboards to build a competent negotiator, diplomat, persuader, presenter, salesman, spy, and seducer.

AIS-APPLE, meta-discipline #5, derives much of its power from Strategic Thinking and Social Dynamics.  It's concerned with using those to build and protect Wealth.  Survivalist, Way #6, in turn builds heavily on Fighting and downside risk analysis enabled by Strategic Thinking and AIS-APPLE.

In fact, you could easily see Survivalism as being the other part of the Wealth Equation:  Wealth =  Resources - Needs.  Think of "Resource" acquisition as being the province of AIS-APPLE (many of the skills that will be discussed here are employed by the most highly compensated people in the world---hedge fund managers) and having fewer "Needs" as being the province of Survivalism.  Together they will make you just not give a damn about many things that really stress other people out.
 
 Coming Up Next:  Ketosis 101

The next post will be far more focused and will start discussing one of Septivium's most important base elements:  the ketogenic diet or modified/cyclical ketogenic diet (depending on your personal needs, you may alternate between these) and the use of daily "feeding windows" for Intermittent Fasting (IF).




Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Course Syllabus: "The Art of War", Spring Term 2014


I have been working on a long-term book-length project that is tentatively titled "The Septivium" ("The Seven Ways").  It's really the culmination of a number of interests that I have held for much of my adult life in one form or another, and the premise is that there are seven fields of lifelong study which, collectively, give a man great leverage in terms of developing his human potential.  

Please conceptualize this as a set of comments and observations from the journal of someone who believes strongly in the material, but who cannot claim to be an expert or authority on any of the components.  

The Septivium:

1.  Building a Metabolic Dominance Platform.  High-performance "biohacking" lifestyle design and physical performance based on taking proactive steps to control six areas of life:  

-Food & Supplements
-Movement & Exercise
-Recovery & Sleep
-Social Environment 
-Habitat Serenity & Aesthetics
-Sex 

2.  Building a Cognitive Dominance Platform:  Developing powerful mental models for social systems using six "universal acid" analytical disciplines:  

-Evolutionary Psychology
-Game Theory and Decision Science
-Microeconomics and Political Economy (particularly the Austrian school and Public Choice school of political science)
-Classics of Military Strategy
-Big History
-Practical Philosophy

3.  Learning How to Fight

4.  Learning How to Influence and Persuade

5.  Developing an "AAPLE" (my own acronym for Alternative investment strategies, Asset Protection, and Lean Entrepreneurship) Capability

6.   Developing a Survivalist Capability

7.   Becoming an Adventurer

The elements of the Septivium are by no means exhaustive, and I believe that having a list---virtually any list---of core study areas with which to focus and articulate your lifelong search for knowledge is far more important than adopting someone else's list for yourself.  However, in the future I will attempt to persuade you that the Septivium does in fact present a very powerful, potentially life-changing set of tools.   

 I want to get into all of these things in a series of monster blog posts this year, but one immediate application for me has been the design of the courses that I teach undergrads.  I basically have been teaching pieces of the Septivium and will continue to do so as long as students find the information useful.   

This term I will be teaching a course that focuses more on military strategy than any that I have taught previously.  For anyone interested, here is the syllabus that I am using...


THE ART OF WAR

Pritchard/Spring Term//2014

Course Description:    
  
The New Art of War is a course on strategic thinking that will take an interdisciplinary "Intelligence Fusion" perspective.  My efforts will be directed towards the students gaining both analytical tools for academic research and practical tools that they can apply to their own lives and decisions that they confront. 

This course will feature discussions on how factors such as globalization and changes in technology have forced an evolution in national security planning.  As we intellectually frolic amidst an academic wonderland of entertainment, showmanship, camaraderie, bespoke tailoring, and, as always, great laughs, we will nonetheless get down to the serious  work of cultivating a strategic mindset and associated toolkit.  During the next several months, we 1) will examine both Western and Eastern classics on military strategy to look for enduring truths about the nature of the battlefield, 2) will study the science of how the stress and uncertainty of combat affect the human mind and body and what can be done to mitigate these factors,3) will learn the basics of mission planning and tactical operations and apply them to case study scenarios, 4) will analyze emerging hotspots and potential conflict areas, and 5) will consider how these all integrate with modern warfighting platforms such as elite military Special Operations Forces (SOF), drones, and cyberwarfare tactics and techniques..


Required Texts:

A) Strategy:  A History by Lawrence Freedman

Optional Supplement (Highly Recommended):

B) SH 21-76.  US Army Ranger Handbook  

I will occasionally also issue supplementary handouts and direct you to cool videos and links.  

Attendance Policy:   Please attend class.  I miss you when you aren't there, and I can become emotionally fragile and lash out. 

Assessment:  Grades will be based on 50% Class Participation and 50% Written Assignments.  Class Participation is subjective, but will generally reflect your level of engagement.  The Written Assignments will consist of three papers:  Papers 1 and 2 are worth 25% of this Written Assignments portion each, while the Final Paper is worth 50% of the Written Assignments portion of the grade.   


 SCHEDULE OF CLASSES/TOPICS (SUBJECT TO CHANGE OPPORTUNISTICALLY):

16 JAN/(1)    Why Study the Art of War?   Introduction to Strategic Thinking
-Strategy v.s Tactics.
-Concerns:  the Strategy Paradox and the Halo Effect.
-Basic Strategy Types:  Frontal Assault, Indirect/Maneuver, Turning the Flank (Frontal + Maneuver Element), War Behind the Lines.
-Strategy and Popperian Falsifiability.
-Core Elements:  A)  Strategy=Uncertainty;  B)  Strategy=Tradeoffs;  C) Strategy=Managing Strategic Reserves
-Morale:  Existential and Non-Existential Threats, "The War Curve"
-METIS vs. BIE

ASSIGNED READING:  NONE


23 JAN/(2)     "Could Captain America Exist?"  Supersoldiers, biohacking, epigenetics, and training.  

-War as an apocalyptic study of human nature and human potential
-Physiological, psychological, and cognitive demands of the battlefield.
-Body alarm reaction.
-BIE:  Metabolic Dominance.  Human metabolism 101.  Ketogenesis, autophagy, metabolic conditioning/hormone cascades, supplementation. 
-METIS:  Cognitive Dominance.  Situational Awareness and decision science for strategic supremacy.  Adaptive heuristics for tactical supremacy.
-Psychological Dominance.  -Sensorimotor Rhythm, Para-Sociopathy, and Predatory Aggression

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman Chapters 1, 2





....

30 JAN/(3)     Tactical Basics:  Force Multipliers vs. Lanchester Combat Model

-The Holy Trinity:  Fitness, Land Nav, and the Rifle
-Patrolling, Reconnaissance and Situational Awareness.
-Advantage of the Prepared Defense.   Concentration and Isolation.  "Range Me."
-Surprise: Raids and Ambush.  Types of Ambush.  Time decay, options, and Relative Superiority (RS)
-Overwatch and Support.  Rear Security.
-Deceptions and Camouflage.
-Contingencies, Redundancies, Immediate Action Drills, E&E Plans.

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 10 and 11

....

6 FEB/(4)     Mission Planning 101.  
-Commander's Intent and Concept of Operations
-Warning Orders, Courses of Action, Operations Orders, Briefbacks, Frag Orders.
-Mission Profile Templates and Phase Diagrams.
-Scenarios and Pre-Mortem Exercises.  De Bono and Lateral Thinking.  Creativity.
-Rehearsal vs. Planning
-The Importance of SOPs and Battle Drills

IN CLASS EXERCISE:  Planning A Bank Robbery
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT:  "Hit the Bellagio".  3-5 pages.   Be ready to brief it to the class.




.....

13 FEB/(5)    Class Discussion: "Hit the Bellagio"  
       Watch Movie:  "Act of Valor."   

 ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 3, 4, 5

....


20 FEB/(6)    Western Lineage

-Thucydides, Vegetius, Machiavelli.  
-Achilles and Odysseus:  By Strength or By Guile?
-the Melian Dialogue and Geopolitical Realism
-Hanson on the Western Way of War
-Condottieri and Private Military Corporations

-Featured Battles:  Gaugamela, Cannae, Teutoburg Forest

 ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 21, 23, 24

....

27 FEB/(7)    Eastern Lineage

-Sun Tzu, Musashi, Hagakure, Bansenshukai.
-Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
-Psywar
-The Devil's Horsemen
-Modern Ninja?
-Featured Technology:  Mixed-Martial Arts and Combatives
 


ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9

....


6 MARCH:  SPRING BREAK:  :)   

....

13 MARCH/(8)     The Napoleonic Revolution: Clausewitz, Jomini, von Moltke.  

-Best Practices?
-Fog and Friction, The Role of Chance
-Morale and Political Support
-9 Enduring Principles of War
-The Power of Combined Arms

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 16, 17, and 22
....


20 MARCH/(9)   Movie:  "Master and Commander."  

Homework:  Case Study:  "Leave No Man Behind?" Scenario Exercise.  2-3 pages. 



....

27 MARCH/(10)     Discussion:  "Leave No Man Behind?"   Sea Power and Air Power.

-Mahan and Corbett
-"From the Sea" and Expeditionary Warfare
-Douhet, Trenchard, Billy Mitchell
-Supporting Role or Leading Actor?

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 12, 13, 36, 37
....

03 APRIL/(11)     Game Theory, Operations Research, Weapons System Analysis
-Nuclear Weapons 101
-Decision Trees and Game Trees
-Chicken, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and MAD
-Axelrod and Simulation





ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, 14, 15, 18
.....

10 APRIL/(12).   Counterinsurgency, Counterterrorism, Nation-Building, and Humanitarian Missions.  

-Intro to Development Economics:  Sacks, Stiglitz, Easterly, Collier.
-The J-Curve
-The Maoist Template
-Billy Collins
-Killcullen and the Accidental Guerrilla
-Terrorist Cells as Social Networks
-F3EA and Phoenix Program
- Movie:  "Tears of the Sun".

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 28, 29, 30

....

17 APRIL/(13).   Corporate Strategy.

-Learning Curve, BCG Matrix
-Porter's 5 Forces
-Blue Ocean Strategy
-Du Pont Strategic Profit Formula
-Lean Entrepreneurship
-Mintzberg's Critique

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 31, 32, 33
....

SPECIAL NOTE:  UFC COMES TO ORLANDO ON APRIL 19th!

....

24 APRIL/(14).   Maneuver Warfare.

-Liddell Hart, Rommel, Boyd.
-"Decapitate the Snake"
-Decentralization and Rapid Exploitation
-OODA and Fast Transients, the Pivot--Orientation
-Criticism of Boyd
-Taleb and Anti-Fragility
-DISCUSS FINAL PAPERS

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, 26 + Fun, Take-Home Short Answer Assignment

 ....

1 MAY/(15).   "The Way of the Knife":  Commando Operations, Cyberwarfare, Drones. 
 -"Relative Superiority" 
-SOCOM organization and unit specialties
-training anecdotes
-"Who would win in a fight between..."
-Capabilities and limitations
-Analysis:  Son Tay Raid and Neptune Spear.
-STUXNET
-Drones 101



ASSIGNED READING:  None, Work on Your Papers


8 MAY:  FINAL PAPERS DUE 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

...For Special Circumstances: Interview with Custom Knifemaker Ian Wendt



This entry marks the first in a series of interviews I will be conducting with leading-edge thinkers within the private-sector tactical training community.  I have known many of these guys for over ten years and I cannot overstate the impact that their recommendations and advice has had on my own thinking, both in matters related to the fighting arts/MMA and in other areas of my life.  

Knifemaker Ian Wendt is a close friend who originally hails from Denmark but who now calls New Mexico home.  He combines a razor-keen analytical intellect with the unrelenting perfectionism and skill of an artisanal Old World craftsman; Ian's innovative and wickedly efficient knives have won him a devoted following among some ferocious members of the tactical community, and his expertise in design, construction, and materials applications for outdoor technical clothing and gear make him a natural consultant to groups and individuals who are engaged in expeditions and backcountry adventures.

I have jokingly referred to Ian as "The Gear Pimp" because his advice has frequently led to me spending thousands of dollars on equipment.  But he has never steered me wrong and I would come to him before embarking on any type of remote or dangerous travel.  

Enjoy!

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SEB:  Ian, how did you get into knife- and gear-making business?
IAN: I was indoctrinated at a young age by my father who had been a hobby knifemaker in his own right and a leathersmith since the early 70s. So, the respect for the skill and care that goes into a hand-made piece, no matter what it is, is pretty deeply entrenched at this point. As my 10th birthday gift, my dad gave me a genuine Filipino balisong knife that was entirely hand-made in a small shop in Manila. My mom hated him for it. And for many other things! But that knife was my first introduction to a GOOD knife, versus the cheap, crappy ones I’d seen previously. I also promptly cut the fuck out of myself with it, but that’s how you learn, ain’t it?

Over the years, I made a few kit knives for myself. Buy a blade, put a handle on it, make a sheath, that kind of thing. Probably starting around age 15. In a school shop-class no less. Couldn’t do that today!

Going to the various knife and craft shows with my dad also exposed me to a lot of the Scandinavian knifemakers and there were and are some absolute world-class guys in Scandinavia. So from there, I started using hand-made blades, including those from a blacksmith named Aage Frederiksen and I stuck to using those for years.Mostly doing more traditional art knife type work. Materials like ebony, ivory, horn, etc.

When I came up with a really low-profile handle for the Frederiksen blades, that’s when I started selling my work. Probably 2004-2005.

In 2005-2006 was when I made my first laminate blade. Mostly because I was/am poor and really wanted one of the Warren Thomas knives, which I just couldn’t afford. It turned out… Better than I expected. Good enough to where I could sell it. And I’ve continued to improve greatly since then.

Most of my explorations into making gear comes from necessity and lack of funds. I want something, I can’t afford to buy it, well goddammit, I will make it myself!
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SEB:  How would you describe your niche market?  Is there a profile of a typical customer?
Ian:   You know, that’s a good question. I’d say that the overwhelming majority of customers are pretty serious about self-defense and carrying well-designed tools for that kind of application. But there’s been a few people who were rather obviously just collector types. I’m not big on catering to the collectors, mostly because I like the idea of my work being used for its intended purpose. I have knives in the hands of law enforcement, military, Department of State, and a whole bunch of damn dirty civilians, like myself, also carry my knives. So, if anything, the customer base is incredibly diverse!



(review of Ian's "Hobbes" tactical carry knife by professional badass Paul Sharp)
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SEB:  The tactical orientation does seem to be a common denominator among your customers.  Given such a constituency, what are your thoughts on tool design and materials.
IAN:  Oh man, that’s a can of worms right there! I love a well-made traditional knife. Carbon steel, forged, bone, wood, ivory, etc, handles. There’s something warm about them.
But the reality of it is that for the kind of use that I make knives for, they’re just not ideal. They rust, the handle materials absorb moisture and warp, etc etc. So for something that needs to be carried close against the body and be exposed to sweat for days on end, you really can’t use those traditional materials. Or well, my opinion is that you shouldn’t!

So, those kinds of consideration have helped shape my work. I chose the carbon fiber-Titanium laminates because they’re highly resistant to environmental damage. Moisture doesn’t matter, basically any environment that won’t kill you, a knife made from the materials I choose, will survive as well. For me, being able to not worry about maintenance is important. 


That you also get much lighter weight out of those materials, that’s another bonus. Most of my knives weigh under 3 ounces with the sheath. That is light enough to where you just don’t notice the weight.

But there are definite drawbacks. What most people don’t realize is that Titanium is extremely soft in comparison to steel. Especially the high-alloy tool steels commonly used in knifemaking today. Most Titanium alloys won’t ever get above 40 Rockwell C, whereas a steel knife is commonly anywhere from 58 to 62 Rockwell C. That’s an enormous difference in edge holding capability. So, I will never recommend one of my knives or any other knife made from similar materials, as a general utility knife. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can do the same tasks with a laminate or straight Titanium blade as you can with a steel knife. And I have told prospective customers exactly that and not gotten their business because of it. But for the explicit uses that I make my knives for? The laminate blades are almost perfect. More than strong enough and will hold an edge for long enough for you to get your work done and then GTFO.

When it comes to design, I’m like the soup Nazi. I’m enormously picky. Designs that I make are pretty much always going to be something that I would carry myself. The emphasis is on good grip retention, and a well-aligned point for thrusting. But what I also tend to focus on are minimal handles. Now, some guys will probably think that sounds like eating your cake and having it too. But that’s part of my persnickety-ness when it comes to designs. I firmly believe and think I have proven at this point, that you don’t need a massive handle to have a secure grip. And since a smaller grip also means that the knife will be easier to conceal, I think it’s an important feature to focus on. You see some knives that are marketed for conceal-carry self-defense and their handles are just enormous. That’s my main point of contention with the TDI knife, actually. 

 My take there is that design is everything. I tend to focus on a pronounced forward finger choil. It helps lock the knife into your hand and prevents you from sliding up onto the blade, just as well as a separate guard will. For smaller knives, like the Maleficus design, you only need to be able to get 2-3 fingers on the handle. That’s plenty if the handle is otherwise well-designed.

Blade design, I admit to having an unhealthy obsession with recurves. They’re just fun! Albeit a pain in the ass to grind the bevels for. They do have some advantages, notably that they tend to “gather” material into them and forces it up against the edge. You can make some naughty cuts with recurves, especially on the withdrawal. Yes, I said “naughty”.

**(both men laugh)**

 Ultimately, though, point alignment for me is more important. Insert pointy-end in bad guy, repeat as necessary until desired result is achieved. That’s kind of my thoughts on knife “fighting” in general. 





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SEB:  Did you have any influences?  Work that you particularly liked or admired?
IAN : Lots! When it comes to the materials I use, my biggest influence has been, without a doubt, Warren Thomas. He’s the pioneer of that process. Our work obviously differs in a number of ways, very likely also down to the process used. I have no idea what he uses as far as adhesives, mostly because he’s never been willing to divulge it, which is entirely his prerogative. I spent a considerable amount of time researching the adhesives part of the equation before settling on a 3M product.

As far as design goes… Jesus, there are so many. Neil Blackwood, Trace Rinaldi, Jens Ansø, Warren Thomas, obviously, and dozens more. I couldn’t list all of them if I tried!
And there are more fantastic knifemakers coming out all the time. In recent years, there’s been a huge surge of outstanding knifemakers from Eastern Europe and Russia.

 ....


SEB:  How do you see your knives being best employed (in terms of being part of a system)?
IAN:   Hmm. That’s a good question. I really can’t speak for most of my customers. Obviously, since a lot of them do follow the TPI curriculum which I am also a fan of, there’s going to be some overlap. But still, I can only speak for how I use them myself. 


Generally carried near the center-line on the belt. Most commonly, on the outside of the belt. I’m not in a situation where I need to wear business dress so my shirts are rarely tucked in. Center-line carry, so that it requires minimal articulation to draw, and is accessible with either hand, is important in my book. I prefer horizontal carry, because I’m fluffy around the middle and they print a lot if I carry them vertically… It’s also more comfortable to carry horizontally in my experience. Access should be quick and reliable. Center-line carry facilitates this in my experience and that of others. Ideally, carried as an adjunct to a handgun, but not everybody can carry a firearm. For an entangled fight, there is very little better than a well-designed fixed blade to make some space. Space that you can use to either break away and run for it, or go to a firearm. I’m a big fan of pushdaggers for this kind of use. Somebody with boxing and clinch experience with a pushdagger in their hand is a thing of nightmares!




**(Seb's Note:  I will post much more on on the "TPI Paradigm" and related curriculum in forthcoming interviews, when those directly behind it's evolution can comment and explain.  For now, suffice it to say that this is a multi-disciplinary approach to self protection under emergency conditions, built on a mix of several different baseline personal-combat skills---all taken from skill complexes which have track records of high performance under hardcore, full-resistance conditions---that are combined and tested under the pressures of both force-on-force training and real-world deployments, and subjected to an iterative review-and-feedback process that draws strength from a tremendously interesting peer-group of practitioners).**
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SEB:   I agree completely about the damage a pushie can do when placed in the hands of good striker.  It's just fucking crazy.   As I have noted before, the push dagger that I personally carry is one of your designs and it has become a fetish object for many of my friends.


(Seb with his beloved Special Circumstances PD.  This photo will hopefully provoke those MMA teammates who covet this fine knife and keep trying to go through my gear bags so that they can locate it and fondle it obscenely)



Clearly your designs, choices in materials, and customer base would give you some professional insights into how knives are actually put to best use in a real-world fight.  What are your general thoughts on the realistic use of a blade in a self-defense or tactical context?
IAN: Ugh. There’s so much garbage material being taught out there about this. Not that I’m an expert, but I have a brain and a fairly well-developed Sense Of the Common. A lot of this stuff is just too goddamn complicated. Too mired in the TMA mindset of working drills with a compliant opponent. 99% of the fancy shit goes right out the door when you’re working against an opponent with opposing will and malignant intent. That’s one of the reasons I have drifted towards the TPI paradigm over the years, it’s actually been pressure tested against actively resisting opponents, unlike the vast majority of things you see out there.

As for the realistic use of the blade… Hrm. Any use of it is likely to happen when you’re at a disadvantage. Somebody caught you unawares and now you’re forced to play catch-up. Staying conscious and upright for the first few seconds is pretty high on the list of priorities. If you manage to pull that off during the first few seconds, you can worry about going to a weapon. Knives are typically easier to access than a firearm, especially with the kind of carry that I advocate for. Less articulation, smaller movements, much harder to foul up. 



And, much better for use in the entangled fight. I’d use a knife to get to a place where I have the time and space to go for the gun. If I’m carrying a gun, that is. If not, well, that’s when you make like a sewing machine until your assailant(s) either stop doing what they’re doing or you get an opening to make like a library and book it. The biggest thing about any of this is that a weapon is not a substitute for training. Best, most accurate, handgun on the planet isn’t going to do shit for you if you can’t weather an assault, shut down your opponents attempts at hurting you, and access the weapon in a way that isn’t going to result in your draw getting fouled, or your opponent beating you to it and taking YOUR weapon before you can draw it. A good, solid base in some no-bullshit hand-to-hand fighting is essential. You should get that base established before you ever really worry about the weapons.

In the tactical environment, IE Law Enforcement and Military, the paradigm is considerably different. But mostly for military. A lot of the same things that applies to civilian encounters will apply to police work. Except your risk for getting into a fight is immensurably higher for police. They should probably focus even more on getting their skillsets squared away than the vast majority of civilians needs to. Seeing how many of them DON’T, is baffling and sad.

Military, whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Barring the occasional high-speed, covert operator, operating tactically in a dynamic, high-threat environment, military will tend to be backed up by a team. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have good hand-to-hand, because entangled fights definitely do happen. Relatively rare, but I think it’s a mistake to not take it into account and prepare for it. Concealment is less critical, but ease of access isn’t. Knowing how to retain your weapon and how to get somebody OFF your weapon is important. The knife can definitely see an effective use there. Interestingly, there are cultural differences there as well. A lot of Middle Eastern cultures have a high level of respect for blades and respond differently to being threatened with a knife than they do with a gun.

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SEB:  What do you EDC?   Tell us the thinking behind your choices.

**(Seb's Note:  "EDC" means "Everyday Carry", and refers to items an individually habitually carries with him, on body or in a readily-accessible go bag.)**  
IAN:  Heh, currently I’m EDC-ing a few different things. It changes a lot, mostly because I’ll make something with the intent of carrying it, and then end up selling it.

I like pushdaggers for the fixed blade portion of my “load-out”. Compact, easy to access, nigh impossible to foul the draw, and equally difficult to disarm. Always carried center-line.

Folding knives, I carry strictly folders that have a “wave”. If it doesn’t come with one, I’ll make one for it. I dislike liner locks, prefer Axis Locks, Ball Bearing Locks and frame locks. A strong lock is key. I mostly carry Benchmade. I’ve carried a Benchmade 710 since ‘98 or so. Right under 4 inches, Axis Lock, slim, relatively neutral handle so it works in pretty much any grip.  I also admit to having a thing for the Zero Tolerance frame lock knives like the ZT 0560.

It has to be tip-up carry, and I usually draw into a reverse grip, edge in orientation if I’m using it defensively. But it plays second fiddle to the fixed blade for that purpose. Mostly, it’s used for utility. Opening boxes, trimming fingernails, that sort of thing.

Flashlights, I have a real problem with. Mostly, I like them a lot. I prefer simple interfaces, magnetic selector rings being a favorite. Currently, I’m carrying a Sunwayman V20C that I put a pocket clip on. Fantastic little light. I detest anything that has an interface that isn’t dead-nuts simple. 

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SEB: EDC flashlights. Discuss...

IAN: Well, I covered some of my preferences above. But I can expound.
Generally speaking, incandescents are Dodo birds. Extinct. Or should be.
There are some few exceptions but they’re specialty items. For every day carry use, a good flashlight should be an LED.

Now, a lot of people swear by Surefire and they do make a good product. But they’re expensive, the quality of their machining seems to have dropped drastically in recent years and I fucking HATE the interface they put on most of their lights. They’re also generally not rechargeable battery friendly, which is just annoying.

So, things to look for:

-Easy interface. If you have to sacrifice a chicken and stand on your head to get to the level of output that you need, fuggedaboutit.

-I like magnetic selector rings. Preferably the infinitely variable kind, but ones that have preset detents can work too as long as they give you a good range. Lowest output should ideally be no more than 15-20 lumens and often times less is good.

-For a “tactical” flashlight, one that you might conceivably use in a self-defense situation, you want a momentary switch, possibly with a clicky option for constant on. There should be no delay in activation. Hit the button, it should come on. Some manufacturers have an inexplicable delay in the light coming on. That’s no bueno for defensive use.

-The light also should have an option for directly and immediately activating any strobe option. If getting the strobe activated requires any kind of delay like holding in a button for 1 second or so, it’s useless. Either have an option for pre-setting the strobe as being what happens when you hit the button, or a way to directly access the strobe. A double-tap is fine.

=Bright is good. Does it need to be 900 lumens? No. 200 and up is great. I carry one that is 487 lumens. Works.

-I like a nice, wide beam with a defined hotspot. Massive throw in a flashlight is cool, but up-close it’s less useful. Reserve throw monsters for search and rescue, in my opinion.

-And a pocket clip. Lucifer's frilly panties, man! It has to have a pocket clip! I don’t know why manufacturers fuck that up so consistently. I prefer bezel down carry. A lot of people like it with the bezel up, but I don’t like it for a number of reasons. One, if the light is accidentally activated, you now have a beacon shining out of your pocket. Woops. Two, it exposes the glass lens. Don’t like that.

-Battery compatibility, you basically have your pick. Just, don’t fucking buy one of those shitty little lights that use 3xAAA batteries in a little carrier insert. They’re fucking stupid and have shitty battery life. 2xAA is fine. Make sure it’ll work with rechargeable NiMh batteries.

-2xCR123 lithium batteries is also fine, but again, it should work with something like an 18650 Li-Ion battery. I’m not made of money, I can’t afford to buy CR123 batteries all the fucking time.  It’s cheaper to go rechargeable. And with an 18650, you usually get better run-time as well. So, win-win. Buy quality rechargeables and quality chargers. Only buy protected cells.

Do NOT cheap out on these. Avoid any brand that ends in “fire”. Ultrafire, Sunfire, blah blah. They’s crap.

-Color temperature matters to some people. Neutral white is usually good. Better color rendition, cuts through smoke/fog better than the “bluer” light from a cool white. Look up a color temperature chart for more detail.

-Cool white is more disruptive to vision and will leave anybody hit with the beam from a flashlight with ugly purple spots for a while.

-Oh, and the tailcap should ideally be a guarded one. Not recessed, just with “wings” or a raised “wall” around the switch to guard against accidental activation and to sort of funnel your thumb into the switch cavity. 

....

 SEB:  Thoughts on medical training for prepared individuals, adventurers, etc:.  Core skills?  Where to acquire such training?  How to sustain the skills?
IAN:   I think medical training is essential. Especially if you carry a weapon. But realistically, your odds of having to deal with a GSW are a lot lower than your odds of having to deal with a more mundane accident. I would suggest basic First Responder and CPR training for just about anybody, with more specialized training for dealing with trauma obtained afterwards. a Wilderness First Responder course is a really good thing to have. If you spend a large amount of time hours or days away from Civilization, the requirements for your level of training increases exponentially. As for good places to get the training, there are quite a few.

Lone Star Medics out of Texas is a good one. Dark Angel Medical is another. Greg Ellifritz up in Ohio teaches some good entry-level classes at TDI. Doctor Keith Brown will hopefully be offering up some of his outstanding coursework in the future as well, but most of his material is somewhat higher level, but nevertheless very exciting material. I am hoping to be able to train with him myself in the future. NOLS is kinda the old faithful when it comes to Wilderness Medicine, but I have issues with certain aspects of what they teach. And some of their courses can get a little… Erh… “Woooh!” *waves hands*

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SEB.  MINEX (Mine Exploration).  Very exciting.  Tell us about it.
IAN: Hah! Well, I’ve not done much of it lately, as having a kid tends to put a damper on such adventures. It’s something I’d like to get back to though. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and just a really neat experience. It’s also enormously challenging for your gear. A more destructive environment is hard to find. But going into an abandoned mine and finding the detritus of the miners that worked those tunnels, it’s fascinating. Not something I would recommend people to undertake lightly though. You really need to have good equipment and not be an idiot. It requires an enormous amount of care. I can’t remember where I first heard this, but there’s a saying to illustrate the difference between caving and mine exploration that goes something along the lines of, “The natural state of a cave is to be open. The natural state of a mine is to be closed.”




That’s something to keep in mind, and if that doesn’t give you the slightest bit of pause, maybe you’re an idiot ;)



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SEB:  Do you have any recommendations regarding technical clothing for the outdoors?  Things that someone considering a mountain big-game hunt or an expedition should take a serious look at...? Thoughts on materials?
IAN:   Goddamn… This might take a while. There’s a few brands that I consider my old standby’s. I know, everybody gets all aflutter about Arc’Teryx and they do make some good stuff, but I’ve never been blown away by what I’ve seen from them. So they’re not really on my list.

Outdoor Research does good stuff, that I’ve used in a variety of environments. I’ve had one of their “softshells” for several years and it’s held up really well. Love their hoods for the most part, and a good hood is fucking essential. Their pricing is also reasonable and they have a lifetime warranty. Can’t beat that. Awesome gloves too. There’s a reason their military line of gloves is enormously popular, and I can tell you from personal experience that they destroy the Oakley gloves as far as durability goes. Any glove that survives a few years of regular MINEX is about indestructible in my book.

Mountain Hardwear is another one. Again, just bomber gear. They have some issues every now and then with sizing, but try it on first. They’re another company that really stands behind their products, which makes me return to them again and again.

And of course, Triple Aught Design. About the same price range as companies like Arc’Teryx and Mountain Hardwear, but largely made in North America these days. I say North America and not the US, because some of their stuff IS sewn in Canada. They have a few items that are still made in China, but the vast majority of their production is now done in-house. I like that a lot about a company. Their materials are top-of-the-line and they put some serious thought into their designs. I am increasingly a fan of their stuff.

Also, Ibex. Their merino wool is second to none. I’ve had pieces that have survived for years of regular use, with lots of cycles through the washer AND dryer. Just outstanding products.
Materials, that’s another can of worms right there.

For baselayers, there’s really no beating merino wool. I use that for everything I can. It doesn’t stink, it dries fast, keeps you warm even when wet and good merino won’t itch either. It’s also naturally flame-resistant and won’t melt and stick to your skin. There is no synthetic fiber that can compete in my opinion. I like it for both base- and mid-layers for that matter, although for really low temps, finding thick enough merino can be tricky. No matter what though, merino is probably going to be the most comfortable inner layers you will ever fucking wear.

For lower temps, various types of fleece come in handy. The biggest name there is probably Polartec, as far as suppliers go. I like their WindPro fleece a lot as it can double handily as an outerlayer due to being almost entirely windproof. But unlike Windstopper fleece or others like it, WindPro actually breathes. For longer duration exertion, you want to be able to dump that moisture. Windstopper fleece just fucking doesn’t. Feels like you’re wearing a fuzzy plastic bag. Fuck that noise. I have a Triple Aught Design Ranger hoodie in heavy 10oz WindPro that I love in an unhealthy manner.

Non-wind-resistant fleeces, the various long-fiber types like the Thermal Pro is really nice too. Good warmth, traps a lot of air when worn underneath a shell and they’re light. WindPro can be a little heavy because of the density required to block wind. Trade off, yeh?

For really low temps, you start getting into the down and synthetic down alternatives. For weight, warmth, and packability, there is no getting around quality down. It’s a bit of a wonder material. But it has weaknesses. Mostly that it doesn’t deal well with moisture. Get it wet and you’re fucking done. Some of the more expensive pieces will try to remedy that by using water-resistant face fabrics, but if you’re really working hard, putting out a lot of moisture and the ambient humidity is high as well, your down isn’t going to last long. Some of these issues have been remedied at least partially recently with a few manufacturers bringing out treated down products that make them significantly more water-resistant. This is a good thing.

But, nevertheless, down is best reserved for use in cold and dry environments. Particularly good as a belay jacket or similar. Something you can carry easily and break out when you stop and take a breather.

Down alternatives, there’s a few different types, but the most popular one is definitely going to be PrimaLoft. It’s almost as good as down, but it doesn’t suffer from the issues with moisture. Or rather, it needs to get a LOT wetter before it becomes a problem for it. And it doesn’t retain the moisture much either. More durable than down in my experience and less picky about the care.  Not quite as warm for the weight, but again, boils down to trade offs.

For outer layers, I’m not a fan of Gore-Tex. Yeah, it has a place. But that place is best served by being a piece that you bust out when it gets really nasty and wet for long periods of time. And preferably, quite cold as well. Works best that way.

There’s a lot of different waterproof/breathable products out there, but Gore-Tex is probably the most recognizable name. MOST of them, regardless of name, is essentially the same fucking thing. If it says “expanded PTFE membrane” it’s basically Gore-Tex. Some minor differences in performance, but it’s minimal. eVent is one such product, that seems to perform slightly better than some varieties of Gore-Tex. Others use polyurethane as the membrane material. But most of them suffer from the same problems with high exertion. You tend to get pretty wet underneath and conditions really have to be ideal for moisture transport to occur.

Now there are some interesting materials out there, like the Schoeller C_Change membrane. That one is a slightly different animal, and by all accounts, is more breathable than just about anything else on the market. I don’t have any personal experience with it, but I’ve been impressed by pretty much all the fabrics that Schoeller makes. TAD Gear uses it in their Stealth hoodies.  Certainly worth taking a look if you need a waterproof shell.

Now, I’m going to touch on a pet peeve of mine and that is the ridiculously loose definition of what makes a “softshell”:

You see the term applied to anything that has a bit of stretch to it, or has a fuzzy lining. But that’s a perversion of the term. A softshell, originally, was meant to be something non-waterproof but water-repellent, highly breathable, wind-resistant/proof, that dried quickly. Then companies started adding membranes to them and in my opinion that takes away one of the key elements and benefits of the softshell, that of being highly breathable. When you’re really exerting yourself, a softshell is fantastic. You never get that wet and soaked feeling that you get when wearing a WPB shell. And since they shed most rain by virtue of a DWR coating, softshells can be used for 90 percent of the time, unless you’re in the fucking PNW or something. So, in my opinion a softshell should never have a membrane and it shouldn’t be waterproof. Needs to be breathable, folks!

Socks, basically just go with wool. Some relatively high percentage blend of merino wool and other fabrics like nylon, acrylic, and spandex. Fuck cotton. If you wear cotton socks, you are wrong. The synthetics usually work too, but you don’t get the antimicrobial properties that you get with wool. Silk blends are good too.

My usual approach is to go with something like a softshell as my outerlayer, but carry a lightweight waterproof shell in my pack. The lightweight ones pack down small and aren’t a great weight penalty. If it really starts pouring, I’ll put the shell on over my other layers. Same goes for pants. Although I’ll often times wear a softshell pant and just deal with the bit of soaking through I get. Snow, it’s pretty much the same thing. If it’s cold enough, the snow won’t melt on you either and I generally don’t have issues with bleed-through.

So, to sum up, my recommendations for materials and layers go something like this:
Baselayer: Merino, merino, merino. Varying weights as appropriate for seasons and geographical location.

Midlayer: Merino and/or fleece, my preference for fleece is WindPro. Weights as appropriate for environment. For low temps, consider synthetic down/down layers.  
Outerlayer: A true softshell for 90 percent of the time in most environments, can be fleece-lined, can just be tricot. Personal preference rules there. Carry a lightweight waterproof shell for serious downpours. Get stretch fabrics if you can afford it. Ideally, should be abrasion resistant.

Variations on that combination of materials should get you through almost anything.  

SEB:   This is really great info.  I don't have a lot of familiarity with some of these brands and need to check them out.  If I had to make a list, I'd say that I currently prefer TAD for softshells and fleece garments, TAD and Crye for cargo pants, Arc'Teryx for hard shells and softshell pants and some of their long-sleeve crewnecks.  SORD and Beyond and a few others would be in there with some nice individual pieces, too.

I really need to look at Ibex wool.  I tried using Icebreaker for an Andean trek and got the sizing off---the shirts were really tight, like rashguard tops or some kind of Fire Island costume.  
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SEB:  Can you give us some tactical trainers that you would highly recommend?
IAN: Well, I can’t say I’ve done many “tactical classes” but for self-defense, there’s a few I’d happily recommend.

Craig Douglas with Shivworks is pretty much a must.

Paul Sharp with Sharp Defense is an outstanding instructor.

Cecil Burch, with his IAJJ program.

Greg Ellifritz teaches some really good stuff at TDI.

Caleb Causey with Lone Star Medical, he has some really interesting courses for people who carry a gun, especially professionally.

Tom Givens with Rangemaster.

Nathan Wagar at Rio Rancho Crazy Monkey Defense.

Hell, I could go on and on here. 

SEB:  Oh yes.  What a great group of guys---in fact, I plan on interviewing several of them for the blog!

I think that a benefit of training with instructors of that level of distinction is that they can also easily recommend other instructors who offer highly synergistic courses of instruction.  You end up becoming part of a really cool community. 

 ....

SEB:  What are your thoughts on MMA and combative knife use?
IAN: I think MMA has a TON of merit as a great way to build a strong foundation for hand-to-hand. Very little in the way of fighting has seen more pressure testing. And pretty much all the assholes that bitch about how MMA is for the ring and not the street, are TMA douchenozzles who’s never trained without a compliant opponent. Yes, Aikido/Systema/Hapkido/Wing Tsun, et al, I’m looking at you.

I’d strongly recommend branching out from there though and get some instruction from some of the people I mentioned above. Adding in weapons is an entirely new dimension and does require some slightly different approaches. Training with people like Craig Douglas, Paul Sharp, Cecil Burch, etc, will vastly improve your ability to deal with a weapon in the fight. 

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SEB: CAD and 3-D printing---in terms of custom knifemaking, do you see a strong role for these technologies in the future?
IAN:  CAD, absolutely. I mean, it’s already a huge part of almost any field of manufacturing. 3D printing is just going to be more so as time passes and the technology improves. We’ve already seen huge leaps and bounds in the ability of 3D printing to create almost finished parts. Everything from polymers to glass and metal is now being 3D printed, and that’s not even getting into the medical applications! On a number of levels, 3D printing is not an evolutionary technology, it is quite literally revolutionary. 

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SEB:    The future of combatives skills training---where do you see it going, how is it evolving?
IAN:   Oh man, I’d like to see the field expand! I mean, ideally, more people would be interested in getting solid training, especially with how many people are now carrying a firearm. I’d like to see less of the victim mentality than has been perpetuated by so many agencies. More badguys coming into ERs with BIC pens stuck in their necks, you know, that kind of thing. But whether or not that will actually happen is a really good question. I’d love to see the more nonsensical stuff go away… But you know… Not likely. I am REALLY pleased to see how the approaches developed by the TPI brain trust are shaping the field though. Even if sometimes it’s by plagiarism… 

SEB:  Jesus, yes, man, so much material just gets ripped off by the copy-cats, usually without even proper attribution.

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SEB:  On a more positive note:  tell us about your collaborative projects with TAD Gear...
IAN:   Hah! Hopefully, there will be more! I don’t have any solid data on that yet, but we’ll see! The first one I did was definitely pretty awesome. The TAD crew are a great bunch of guys and the CEO is a good friend and customer of mine. Very squared away guys that make some increasingly better gear. Not cheap, but worth it, in my opinion. I know you have had some experiences with their gear as well… *cough*


I am definitely looking forward to doing more collaborations with them in the future.

SEB:  I think TAD makes some legitimately great gear.  I actually prefer the fit and construction of a lot of their technical garments to those made by other esteemed outdoors companies, including Arc'Teryx.

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SEB:   How do you see a more offensive capability---assault rifle, paramilitary skills, etc.---fitting into the concept of the prepared man?
IAN: It kinda has a bad rep in the sense that a lot of people immediately start thinking about the militias and some of those guys are just wackjobs. But, I think it has value. I’d personally like to add more of that to my own skillset. Although I harbor no illusions about becoming an “operator”, for me it’s just part of the continual process of improvement. I’m a firm believer in the Renaissance Man concept, so yeah. Get training. Be as ready as you can be for whatever might happen. Learn how to start a fire, build a shelter, use a rifle, clear a building, in a team or alone. Just never stop learning and improving. 

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SEB:  Can you walk us through some of the major knife steels used in the industry and their pros and cons?
IAN:   Ah god, I think I hate you… There’s a million of them.  Basically, if you stick to a few basic rules, it doesn’t matter all that fucking much.

Don’t buy a knife made from 420 steel. They just suck. Even with good heat treatment, they’re below average. 440C is fine. AUS8, also fine. S30V is a premium steel that does great. D2, a fine-grained toolsteel, also works well. Some of the Chinese steels are kinda… Eh. Basically like 420-series steel. So, crap.

There’s about a million different high-carbon steels that work great but require care. Fine for a camp knife or axe. I wouldn’t use it for a daily carry.

Buy knives from reputable manufacturers. Be careful about shit made in China. Some of it is good, a lot of it is crap.

Do you need the latest and greatest super-steel? Nah. But if you’re a nerd, go for it. There’s something of a point of diminishing returns. When you get into the really crazy steels like ZDP-189, you start hitting 64-65 Rockwell, that stuff becomes difficult to sharpen. You pretty much HAVE to use a diamond hone for that. The ceramics will still work, but much slower.
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Seb:  A lot of guys will probably default to just carrying a pocket folder as an everyday knife.  What features should we be looking for, do you think?  Any particular models at different price points that you would recommend for the person who is just starting out?

Ian:   Again, so much of this is personal preference, but I can outline a few things to look for. Solid locking mechanism is key. I don’t care for liner locks because they tend to be very finicky and wear out much faster than the others. Frame locks are nice, Axis Lock, Spyderco Ball Bearing Lock, button locks, those are all fine. Tip up carry in my book is a must. Having a wave on the folder is also a must. Comfortable grip, easy to carry, secure clip. No goddamn serrations unless you’re a fucking sailor. And even then, only grudgingly. Sharpen a knife properly and you won’t need serrations. Partial serrations are a waste of edge length and makes some tasks difficult to do. Full length serrations are also kinda useless and severely limit the applications of a knife. They’re an enormous pain in the ass to sharpen and in some cases, like Cold Steel, effectively can’t be sharpened. So, stay away from that.

Personal likes for me:

-Benchmade 710. As I mentioned previously, that’s been a long-time favorite and it has served me extremely well.

-Benchmade 810 Contego, another Axis Lock, that’s a really nice folder too, a little more expensive than the 710. Get the plain-edged grey blade, as the coating holds up MUCH better on the grey than on the black. It will probably need some modification to the uber-aggressive jimping on the handle to be truly comfortable.

-Zero Tolerance 0300, 0560, and others of their frame locks. Pricey, but really high quality and the Hinderer models are surprisingly lightweight.

-Spyderco has a number of nice folders, including the Craig Douglas designed P’kal. Hard to go wrong with those, but they’re not cheap. Those are probably the three companies I’d stick to for the most part. There are some exceptions but they’re few and far between. 

SEB:  Those are all really nice tools.  I have a BM 630 and a ZT that you recommended to me and they are both terrific.

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SEB: Multitools.  Favorites?
IAN:  Hmm. The single best multi-tool I have ever laid my grubby little mitts on was a Multitasker Series2x. They’re made in China, but the quality of construction blows away all the other tools on the market. Billet machined pliers, melonite finish, bearings, I mean across the board the Multitaskers just monkey stomp the offerings from companies like Leatherman, particularly the Leatherman MUT. And yes, the Series2x (current model is the 3x) IS a weapons-specific multitool. Try one, I don’t think you’ll regret it!

For more general use, I’ve used the piss out of a Gerber Multiplier 600 series. Also had a SOG ParaTool for years that served me well. I cannot speak for their current quality though. I have in the past broken the pliers on a Gerber Multiplier… So… You know, your mileage may vary.

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SEB:  I am convinced that Bruce Wayne is one of your customers.  If someone wanted to order one of your blades, how would you recommend that they proceed in terms of specs and design considerations?  What's the estimated wait time on a new knife?  
IAN: I can neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have possibly, although not definitively , maybe have made a few things for Mr. Wayne.

Contact me via email at specialcircumstancesinc@gmail.com or via facebook. I’m always open to discussing an entirely new design or modifying an existing one to the customer’s needs.

Specs will vary depending on said requirements, of course.

Current wait time right now is about 6 months. I’d like it to be less, but you know… Wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up first...