It’s my pleasure to present this interview with Rory Miller. Mr. Miller is a rare and valuable resource for martial artists, law enforcement officers, and civilians alike looking to improve their understanding of violence.
Rory Miller has seventeen years of experience working in maximum security detentions, booking, and mental health facilities. He has been able to take that experience into the “classroom” where he has conducted many training sessions for professionals and civilians. Mr. Miller has developed a unique voice in the self defense community and is widely regarded for his ability to transmit not just technical knowledge but also insight into the emotional and psychological nature of violent acts.
Mr. Miller recently sat down for a video Q&A that explores some of his background and ideas regarding violence in the modern world. He discusses his early days studying judo and jujutsu as well as learning about physiology and taking his experience into the world of law enforcement (warning: some explicit language):
I was able to ask Mr. Miller some questions myself, aimed more toward his experience with traditional martial arts and what he’s learned that could help other TMA practitioners. Please enjoy!
MA: In the martial arts world there is sometimes a feeling of needing to “prove” one’s fighting skills and style by engaging in real combat, even sometimes seeking it out. This brings up an interesting conundrum – is seeking out real trouble necessary, and can it be reconciled with the ethical tenants in most arts of using violence only as a last resort?
RM: If you want to prove your fighting skills, or if you want to test yourself, there is boxing, judo, MMA, etc. These are fantastic. I think martial sports, particularly MMA, has evolved to semi-safely measure strength, speed, endurance, adaptability, intelligence, and skill. If that is what you are asking, no– there’s no need to seek trouble.
That said, until you get in trouble, you’ll never really grasp that it is a different problem than fighting skill.
It’s hard to explain. Everything physical you get from a martial sport will help you in a shitty situation. The only real problems are mental– the assumption that unexpected violence is the same as a match; the mindset that you must ‘win’ a ‘contest.’ The idea that it is a fight. The reliance on time to prepare or the expectations of what will or won’t happen…It’s not that one is right or wrong or that one is more intense than the other. My first use of force at the sheriff’s office was a skinny addict gang-banger. After training with college-level athletes for most of a decade, he felt like he was made of cheese.But, because you are taking it farther, under higher adrenaline, with both more chaos and fewer ‘knowns’ there are some things you will learn in real trouble that you simply can’t learn anywhere else. Some of it will validate your training, some will discredit it and a lot will explain some things that are useless for sparring work great in an ambush.
MA: You have experience in classical jujutsu as well as law enforcement. What lessons from jujutsu have you found most applicable to your law enforcement? On the flipside, what have you taken from law enforcement that helped you in jujutsu?
RM: I had the luck of starting with extraordinary trainers. My first judo coaches, Wolfgang Dill and Mike Moore were conditioning monsters who made it clear this was physics, not mysticism. So I spent most of my early career with college athletes, going hard, trying for perfect body mechanics– and they insisted it wasn’t real judo unless I could fight out of my weight class. That, especially expected and required to compete at least one and usually two weight classes up, was crucial. Jujutsu under Dave Sumner was another level. It wasn’t just a mixed martial art in the sense that it had take-downs, strikes, grappling, locking, gouging… it was also completely integrated. Strikes were part of the takedowns. One motion could simultaenously lock, strike, and throw. The o-soto-gari outside leg sweep that I learned in judo was modified by simple adjusting the angle of two limbs into a technique that took exactly the same amount of time, had the same throw, but also collapsed the trachea and blew out the knee.
So what I got from the classical JJ, was fantastic body mechanics, extremely efficient motion, an ability to deal with fast complicated attacks and a familiarity with damn near everything a bad guy can do.
What I got from working Corrections was perspective. Judo was a sport and jujutsu pre-dates the concept of force law so needing to justify each force incident made me understand the ethics. The fact that so many things happened so fast taught me to trust and understand how my subconscious works under stress. One physically obvious perspective shift– the hardest part of a judo match is getting into position for the hip and shoulder throws. It’s a chess match of timing and ruthless speed. I once had someone tell me that those throws were worthless in a real encounter because “you never turn your back on an enemy” and it made sense at the time. Thing is, though, that real enemies jump on your back. Not only was something that was deemed ‘worthless’ actually effective, the part that was hardest in training was given to you in real life.
MA: Your life experiences have helped you in understanding real life violence. In what ways have you helped traditional martial artists break bad assumptions or habits they have developed during their training which may actually get them hurt?
RM: No one understands real violence. Anything I’ve done is only a piece. You can be the most experienced doorman in the world but you will know nothing about how an infantry soldier feels or what a rape victim has experienced. You can be the world’s foremost expert on domestic violence and know almost nothing about predatory criminals or gang culture. It’s a big animal. I’m just a former jail guard. I know some things, like criminals, pretty well. Job circumstances required most incidents to be handled without weapons, which is closer to what most martial artists train. But outside of that, there are tons of things I don’t know. Currently a few of us are trying to coordinate a group of people with expertise in different parts of this subject. Can’t share details right now but it will be first hand information available nowhere else.
Martial artists break their own assumptions. I do help with some things. People tell you, “There are no rules in a streetfight,” but at the same time if you get a call from school saying your eight-year-old stabbed a kid who pushed him on the playground, you know well that he broke one of the streetfighting ‘rules.’ The model in “Facing Violence” and “Logic of Violence” help explain that there are different types of violence with different rules. What is completely appropriate for a home invasion is ridiculously overkill for taking the keys away from a drunk friend. Once the martial artists see the context, actually look at the problem, they can make informed decision about where their system fits. How to apply it and when not to. If I’ve done anything for the martial arts community it is simply describing the problem, creating a lexicon so we are talking about the same thing and introducing a few drills. Making it useful will always be on the students, on the people who adapt the knowledge.
MA: One piece of advice you provide is not to keep training generic, but to actually think about the kind of threat profile a person may face. For individuals who have never attempted such a mental exercise, could you give some basic advice for how to implement that into training?
RM: Yeah, but you probably won’t like it. The “Logic of Violence” DVD, by the way, is an attempt to video the class that covers this.
There are only a handful of types of interpersonal violence. I’m going to leave domestic violence out of this, because it’s a big subject and easy to confuse. Basically, social violence is about group dynamics and centers around membership, territory, status and rules. If a stranger comes to your house to tell you you are a crappy father, you’ll get angry. And, because of the group identity, often your victim will get angry, defend you and attack the police. Insiders versus outsiders. Territory and status range from, “What are you lookin’ at, asshole?” to “You lookin’ at my girl?” Rules enforcement violence ranges from a spanking to an execution, from a look when someone is rude to “I’m gonna teach you a lesson, boy.” All of these are predictable and avoidable.
Predatory violence breaks down two ways– resource predators need money, usually for drugs and they want it as quickly and safely as possible. A process predator wants the joy of causing pain and making someone beg.
So with the exception of relations you stay in (one of the reasons I avoid DV here) the social violences are avoidable. I’ll go so far as to say that if you want to use your mad martial arts skillz against a social level of attack (which most closely mirrors the dueling or sparring paradigm) you actually have to be an ass to trigger it.
For predatory violence, you are targeted when you have a resource the bad guy wants (money, say, or sex or even the kind of face that a bully thinks he can make cry) and he thinks he can get away with it.
Basically, and this is the part most martial artists don’t want to hear – the average guy who is really into martial arts will be or become fit and alert. They become the kind of person who will never be targeted for the things they train. Not unless they are asses or actively seek it. And even then, it won’t be the perfect fantasy. A drunk college kid in a Monkey Dance, maybe.
The people who most need the training are the ones who won’t seek it. That’s both cause and effect. Women are targeted for more predatory crimes, and more horrible ones, than men. Geriatrics are more vulnerable to bad guys than young athletes. Your victim profile if you are a young, fit martial athlete? Damn near nothing, unless you are stupid, arrogant and/or socially inept. Stupid people can and will get in trouble despite any amount or quality of training.
MA: The phrase “I’d rather be tried by twelve than carried by six” is common and popular in martial arts circles these days. The main idea is that worrying about legalities and levels of force will result in a cluttered mind and ultimately a lost fight. Could you discuss your take on this?
RM: If it were a binary choice, I’d have no problem with the phrase. But it is not a binary choice. Would you rather stab yourself in the leg with a knife or hit yourself in the hand with a hammer? How about neither To keep it simple, and I will try not to rant – we all know that there are potential legal consequences to a force decision. Every reasonably intelligent adult knows that. Since they already know, they will worry. So the question becomes which will make you freeze less: a worry where you are ignorant or a worry where you aren’t? Knowing and training with respect to SD law is just common sense. Anyone who says it clutters the mind or limits your options or… is probably entirely ignorant of what the law actually is.
My experience is that almost everyone who says that phrase is ignorant of self-defense law, doesn’t teach it, and needs a quick soundbite to make ignorance sound like a reasonable choice.
That said, something to think about: I don’t teach SD Law as a decision making class. With a few (predictable) exceptions, all reasonably good citizens will make good choices. But these will be so fast and subconscious that it is kind of silly to pretend that there is a flow chart. You teach the class first to find glitches. If anyone has problems with the law (and if you present what the law actually says, that is very rare) you can find a point where they will freeze and you can work on that. The focus on the class is on articulation. How to explain a decision that may have been super-fast and subconscious. To put it simply, criminals practice lying to the police and civilians don’t practice telling the truth. Practice matters and a skilled criminal can convince people you were the bad guy. You need to be able to convince people that you were the good guy. And you need to know when to talk and with whom.
MA: Over the years you have developed a skill for making small joint locking work on even big, non-compliant opponents. What do you think is key when utilizing these kinds of techniques?
RM: The biggest key is ‘gifts’. I never put locks on people. They hand me the lock and I finish it. My judo coaches used to say that there is no way for a human to stand or move without being vulnerable to a throw. You just had to recognize the vulnerability and apply the right throw with ruthless speed. It’s the same with locks. A bent elbow hands you the shoulder lock. A straightening arm hands you the elbow. In a scuffle people put their open fingers in the palm of your hand all the time. Should have a video about this coming out from YMAA later this year.
MA: You’ve always trained your body hard and have experienced years of physical contact incidences. While most martial artists won’t experience your level of rigor, are there any pieces of advice you could give (now looking back) on how to avoid injury?
RM: Not really. Everyone that trains hard eventually winds up as a little bundle of injuries. Play hard, pay hard. The people that like playing at that level generally don’t listen when the old guys say, “You’re gonna regret that in a few years.” So, I would say all the same things and the people who need to hear it won’t listen. Memory loss from concussions, blurry eye from a gouge, arthritis in the broken fingers, hands go numb when I sleep from all the shoulder dislocations, even light training in a massive knee brace… may seem like a heavy price at the end of my forties. But I’m in my forties, so, yay. If you’re training for fun, injuries aren’t fun. If you’re training for health, joint problems down the road are counter-productive. If you’re training for a deeper understanding, micro-concussions are a problem.
One piece of advice: train your body to its limits. As far as you can go without injury. Train like a strong young athlete. But train your mind and techniques like you are old, decrepit and sneaky.
MA: You’ve built out an excellent catalogue of resources to help citizens and martial artists understand the law and violence better. Individuals just getting acquainted with your work may not know where to start. Could you provide a brief description of soem of your books/dvds and who they might benefit most?
“Violence: A Writer’s Guide” is an introduction to the world of violence. To the parts that people don’t understand. The parts that books and movies get wrong. Not just the mechanics, but how people who live in a violent world think and feel about what they do and what they see done. $13.49 (subject to change)|
“Meditations on Violence” is a core dump. It is a big psychic vomit. At the end of an interesting year for the first time, things weren’t processing. Martial arts training had always been a mental sanctuary but it wasn’t working. So I started writing just to get things out of my head. Kris Wilder sent it to a publisher. If the readers want a pretty raw, emotional contrast between the world and the training hall, this is a good place to start. Book – $14.03 (subject to change)|
“Facing Violence” is an expansion of a single section (two paragraphs?) of “Meditations on Violence.” Violence is not just the fight. It has a purpose and a lead up and a context and consequences. “Facing” delineates those and gives some advice on what to do about it. I think it is the most practical book I’ve written. DVD – $24.95 (subject to change)|
“Force Decisions” is probably the most important book I’ve written and the one no one will read. We live in a very safe liberal democracy, where officers are authority figures in a culture where it is acceptable to question authority. A place where we try to solve or limit the problems of crime and violence by making a profession that specializes in facing those problems. And the line of misunderstanding between the officers and the citizens has gotten dark. I had no problem with citizens questioning my force decisions. I was using force on their behalf. But I did have an issue if the objections were emotional and suggested no better options. So, “Force Decisions” is a book for citizens on how and why officers use force. And few will read it, because they have already made an emotional decision about whether cops are good or evil and will never dare get some facts that might change their beliefs. Book – $13.21 (subject to change)|
“Scaling Force” was Lawrence Kane’s concept. Most martial arts (or SD derived from martial arts) actually use a very limited range of options. Karate punches and kicks don’t really have good options for calming down Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner. Pure shooters are only equipped for deadly force encounters. Locking specialists may be surprised if the threat is not feeling pain… and so on. So we wanted an introduction to the options everyone should have skill in, from presence and verbal up to deadly force. The chapters on presence and verbal, by the way, are pretty unique. Book – $12.86 (subject to change)|
MA: “The Dream is damned and Dreamer too if Dreaming’s all that Dreamers do” – Is this a quote you developed or that you found somewhere else? Why did you choose this as the motto of your blog?
RM: It’s the only thing I’ve ever written that I think qualifies as poetry. The basic truth is that no one becomes amazing by sitting on his ass, watching videos, reading books and listening to podcasts. You want to become extraordinary, you have to go do stuff. That simple. If all you do is dream and you never work, you contribute nothing to the world.
MA: My audience consists of mostly traditional martial artists. Are there any parting words you’d like to leave them with to help nudge them onto a path of real life protection?
RM: Explore. Be curious. Play. Don’t be surprised if some of the old stuff you don’t use in sparring turns out to be critical in ambushes. The old stuff arose in very violent times and most of it was good. Things fall apart in the misunderstandings and the training methods And take a look at how you train. If your art is truly designed to be efficient, shouldn’t your teaching methods be equally efficient? If it takes years to get good at something effective, that is almost always an indication it is being taught inefficiently.