Thursday, November 24, 2011

Martial Musings and a Tangle With Telstra

Yesterday, Natalie came down the stairs with an expression of doom on her face. I was busy listening to our neighbour, Mad Mick the Historian, so I didn't notice at first. It wasn't until she slapped a Telstra bill in my hand that I wondered what was going on. So I looked at it. $1,007.90.

Errr... what?

A cursory reading of the bill showed the problem. Apparently, Telstra believed that on exactly one day during that period (November 4th), Natalie turned on the 'International Roving' function on her Iphone, and sucked up $825 worth of data from some random overseas location.

My wife is a lovely person, but she's not good at confrontation. She was pretty upset. Remembering our various skirmishes with Telstra in the past (six months, unknown numbers of phone calls and consultations - and finally, it was advice from my neighbour which enabled me to set up a functional wireless internet aerial here at home... thanks Telstra.) she was pretty firmly convinced we were going to wind up forking out the eight-hundred plus smackers, and quite reasonably, that made her unhappy.

I, on the other hand, am perfectly willing to plant myself in the road in front of the proverbial bulldozer, and dare it to try coming my way. And most of that six months worth of back-and-forth on the phone was done by yours truly. As well as the three separate visits to Launceston offices of Telstra, etc. So I just asked her if I could handle it. After all - we've made sure on at least a half-dozen occasions now that I have access to the phone accounts.

Well. First, I had to call Nat back down to the phone so she could tell some Indian-accented chap (who was in Sydney, honest, because he could tell me all about the weather. Not Bangalore. Sydney!) that yes, I was her husband, and yes, I had authority to discuss the phone accounts. So, okay: make that seven times we've told Telstra, and been assured every time that they've adjusted the records accordingly.

After that, though, things went quite well. I explained to Mister Accent that Telstra had made an obvious and stupid error. I pointed out that not only did the spike in billing occur on one single day of the period, but that at no other point in our long history of Telstra bills had anything similar occurred. And while he was busy trying to tell me that sometimes people changed their habits, I pointed out very loudly that neither of us had been overseas during that time. At all.

No. Nor had the phone. Nor any of our computers. Not even a little bit.

He got kind of glum after that, and told me they'd initiate an inquiry. At that point, I politely requested his name and his employee number. Through pleasantly gritted teeth he supplied them, and then decided that the investigation should take place immediately, and if I would just hold, he'd put me straight through.

Half an hour of banal music later, Mister Accent came back. Oops. Yes. The investigation suggested that the bill should be adjusted downwards by $825. And just to be sure, he would cancel that pesky International Roving service (which Natalie had never actually authorised.)

Job done.

I suspect the 'cancellation' of the IR service was done because they decided not to bother investigating over a mere $800 or so. They probably figured that if we were scamming, we'd be pissed by the cancellation of the service, and they wouldn't be out any more money. Doesn't really matter: Natalie isn't stupid. When she goes overseas, she buys a cheap-ass local phone and sim card, because the fucking ridiculously extortionate IR rates are obscene. (And she raises a good point: don't these halfwitted phone people realise how much money they DON'T make by charging so much for IR? If they kept the rates reasonable, people wouldn't do the obvious thing, and buy that cheap phone. But with rates the way they are, instead of making a bomb, Telstra makes nothing at all from sensible travellers. Corporate brains at work?)

All up, it only took one phone call lasting three quarters of an hour. I'm still debating whether or not I should bill Telstra for the wasted time...

Anyway. In the evening, I had the usual class in ju-jitsu. It's near the end of the year, so mostly I'm working the kids through stuff they can show off for the Christmas parade. They love it: lots of exciting diving and rolling, plenty of sparring and game play, and best of all, they get to break boards. Kids luuurrrve breaking boards. And why not?

That wasn't the interesting bit, though. That came with the older class. I decided that since we were having a relatively quiet evening, we'd do something different, and so I set up a session of very, very hardcore groundfighting.

Not hardcore in the sense of MMA. Hardcore in the sense that biting, gouging, hair grips, ear grips, fish-hooking, head-butting, and finger-locking were all permitted: nay, encouraged.

It went like this. We broke up into pairs. One person became the attacker. Their job was to pin the defender in such a way as to be able to demolish some kind of weak spot: ribs, groin, face, throat. The job of the defender was to prevent that by the most efficient means possible.

Most efficient means possible.

Of course, restraint was required. Nobody actually got busted up, and I'm glad of that. But the goal of the exercise was real, and realised, and it was very valuable.

Y'see, the great paradox of teaching a genuine martial art is that you hope never to use it. And you start off, by necessity, teaching a very rigid, very safety-conscious set of techniques. Beginners are dangerous, but it's not because they're particularly good. It's because they've got no accuracy, and no control. You can't train hard with a beginner because what you want to do is pattern into yourself really sharp, accurate, fast responses, and you can't do that if you have to try to keep them safe while simultaneously trying to watch out for their tendency to stumble and swing wildly. So at the start, you teach people efficiency, and you teach them safety, and you teach them restraint and caution and observation.

And in a real situation of violence, you're unlikely to see many of these things from your opponent. Further: if you apply these principles, you are quite likely to be badly injured by somebody who just doesn't give a shit about rules of safety, etc.

So what do you do?

Many martial arts never actually bother. They emphasise discipline, fitness, perhaps spiritual development, or possibly sporting competition. But the hard core of no-rules, survival-first combat don't get much of a look in.

There are other arts and practitioners who insist that hard, frequent, high-contact sparring will do the job, yep. To those folks, I'd offer this video:

It depicts a handful of some of the UFC's top fighters going up against pairs of US Marines in an open woodland. And to a man, the hard-sparring, super-tough, highly skilled UFC men get completely pwned. Not just beaten: absolutely annihilated. They don't even score points against the Marines. They show no awareness of how to deal with paired opponents, and they're woefully unprepared for the simple hand-to-hand weapons that they are given, and which are deployed against them. The UFC guys spar as hard as anybody in the world, but they have rules, and they live by those rules. Put 'em in an environment where the rules don't apply, and they flounder.

There are some who more or less abandon the term 'martial art', and teach - well, "Surviving violence" might be a good name for it, I think. Try this blog: This guy gets my respect. I believe he knows what he's talking about.

But then, if you orient everything you do towards surviving violence - how do you work with kids? And what about the people who are interested in other aspects of a martial art?

Murky territory.

My background is ju-jitsu, more or less. The traditional kind, involving everything - strikes, locks, throws, kicks, evasion, weapons, groundfighting and anything else you want. Plus a lot of stuff which is less trad: defense from weakened positions, surprise attacks, etc. The instructor I studied under longest was Shihan Mark Haseman, and he quite openly declared he favoured a kind of goshin-jitsu, or self-defense oriented art.

One thing I got from everybody in ju-jitsu - the three different schools I've been with, the three major instructors and visiting masters and the seminars and the rest - was a sense of openness. Ju-jitsu as I know it isn't a closed tradition. It's an open, evolving art. But the heart of it is: efficiency, and survival.

So I compromise. With the young ones, I teach a lot of basic physical skills. They fall and roll, strike and kick and block and throw and dodge. They play games, and they break boards sometimes, and they wrestle, and they get exposed to a range of simple, basic kid-strategies for self defense. They seem to enjoy it all, and they gain a lot of confidence, and learn to move better, and maintain their balance. It's all good.

But with the older students, I try to bring things more to a sharp point. We still go through all the basics of movement and balance, striking and evading and blocking and throwing, etc. But in between the work on the basics -- the effort to make them more than just dangerous, unco-ordinated beginners -- I try to work on the things that are relevant to real self-defense.

The session last night was fascinating, from my viewpoint. I wound up wrestling with almost everyone individually, as we broke up the pairs and shifted them around, and in every case, I had to physically demonstrate what I was talking about. I had to show them how to bite, how they could grab an ear and use it as a handle to drag a face into range of a fist. I had to show them how you could try to pry a finger loose from a stranglehold on your neck, and point out that if that wasn't working - well, you had the attacker's attention on that grip and now you could get a really good handful of delicate groin tissue and tear hell out of it...

Difficult. Very challenging for the women, because they have to overcome not just the manners of the dojo, but the non-aggressive, relatively mild role expected of them by society at large. But even for the males, there was a lot of mental conditioning to overcome. They simply didn't think of biting, for example - not even at times when I deliberately stuck a forearm across someone's mouth.

I'm ... well, I'm not sure pleased is the word, but at least I'm satisfied I don't have any such inhibitions. Twenty-odd years under some very fierce instructors, plus a lot of time on the mat, plus long and careful consideration of the purpose of the training have left me with a very simple, matter-of-fact outlook on this stuff. Put me in a position where I truly have to fight for my life, and I will do - actually, I can't think of what I wouldn't be prepared to do to an attacker, if it was necessary. And I don't have to think about it. Try putting your arm across my face: I'll bite bloody chunks out of you. Get your face too close to mine and I'll use my forehead to spread your nose like Vegemite. Lose track of my hand: you'll find my thumb in your eye-socket. Because those are the rules when you're on the bottom, trying not to get killed, you know?

But it's not an easy thing to teach: morally, spiritually, or even technically. It's hard to balance.

We'll definitely be doing that exercise again.