Meditations on Violence : A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence, Paperback

Meditations on Violence : A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (8 ratings)


Finalist - 2008 Book of the Year Award by Foreword MagazineFinalist - 2008 USA Best Book AwardA Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real-World Violence Experienced martial artist and veteran correction officer Sgt.

Rory Miller distills what he has learned from jailhouse brawls, tactical operations and ambushes to explore the differences between martial arts and the subject martial arts were designed to deal with: Violence.Sgt.

Miller introduces the myths, metaphors and expectations that most martial artists have about what they will ultimately learn in their dojo.

This is then compared with the complexity of the reality of violence.

Complexity is one of the recurring themes throughout this work.Section Two examines how to think critically about violence, how to evaluate sources of knowledge and clearly explains the concepts of strategy and tactics.Sections Three and Four focus on the dynamics of violence itself and the predators who perpetuate it.

Drawing on hundreds of encounters and thousands of hours spent with criminals Sgt.

Miller explains the types of violence; how, where, when and why it develops; the effects of adrenaline; how criminals think, and even the effects of drugs and altered states of consciousness in a fight.Section Five centers on training for violence, and adapting your present training methods to that reality.

It discusses the pros and cons of modern and ancient martial arts training and gives a unique insight into early Japanese kata as a military training method.Section Six is all about how to make self-defense work.

Miller examines how to look at defense in a broader context, and how to overcome some of your own subconscious resistance to meeting violence with violence.The last section deals with the aftermath the cost of surviving sudden violence or violent environments, how it can change you for good or bad.

It gives advice for supervisors and even for instructors on how to help a student/survivor.

You ll even learn a bit about enlightenment."


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 180 pages, Black and white photographs
  • Publisher: YMAA Publication Center
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Oriental martial arts
  • ISBN: 9781594391187



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Review by

A wonderful book about the philosophy and real world applications of violence. It shows the difficulty martial arts has in teaching about real world violence. If we could somehow get the skills down to 'reflex' reactions rather than freezing (like what the author convincingly argues that almost everyone with no violence experience will do) then those are real skills for real world applications of violence. The author says violence is a complex topic. Just using a matrix grid {suprised, alerted, mutual, attacking} and {no injury intent, intent to cause injury, intent to cause lethal injury} shows us the problem with traditional martial arts training. Traditional martial arts training is mutual combat with no injury intent or intent to cause injury whereas real world is usually (you) surprised with (they) attacking and (they) intent to cause injury or worse intent to cause lethal injury and (you) ?? depends on your training. As the author points out a real predator won't let you know, "Hey, I am going to kick your ass!" and in the real world of violence you meet many different kinds of people with many different kinds of intentions. Highly recommended, enjoyable read.

Review by

Having only taken a few Aikido courses, as well as some Qigong, I felt a bit out of my element reading this, but the author does a good job of drawing together stories into a cohesive meditation about violence in our society. With a wealth of experience to draw upon, the author makes his book a compelling read even for those of us not in the martial arts community.

Review by

Violence is not a game. Our theater, film, television, internet streaming video, and other media issue an onslaught of ‘action’ and ‘reality’ shows depicting mayhem and murder, ad nauseam, yet such is not to be confused with violence. Rory Miller, assures the reader of his Meditations on Violence ; A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence (Boston, MA : YMAA Publications Center, 2008, list $18.95) that violence between humans, one attacker or predator the other defender or victim, will be fast, hard, close, and with surprise (p. 117). All else is posturing: the monkey dance between two males, the group monkey dance (the pack or crowd), as Miller terms the behaviors of (mostly) males who are either showing off, saving face, or telegraphing intent with an ‘I’m going to kick your ass’ bravado. Even seasoned practitioners of the martial arts, the ‘priests of Mars’ have had little experience with close-in, surprise-attack violence. Miller, a penal corrections officer, martial artist, with years of training in search and rescue, emergency medical technical training, and other related subjects, hopes to change this by preparing all who read his book for countering violence when it occurs. Violence is complex. Chapter 1 presents a three-by four box “tactical matrix” giving 12 possible situations arising from two variables, Awareness and Injury: Surprised / Alerted / Mutual / Attacking aligned horizontally with No Injury / Injury / Lethality vertically. Miller then asks rhetorically where in the matrix’s 12 intersections a martial artist would apply a particular martial technique, for example, the bare-hand back fist or side kick of Karate. The point is that to work from technique to situation is backwards. The complexity matrix grows exponentially when one introduces multiple players and objectives. The several goals of the martial arts themselves – self-defense, sport competition, physically fitness, spiritual insight -- make for complexity, not to mention introduction of multiple players (or attackers). Focus on self-defense is Miller’s objective. “Self defense is about recovery. The ideal is to prevent the situation. The optimal mindset is often a conditioned response that requires no thought . . .” (p. 8)Violence for most is unknown. Miller’s second chapter, ‘How to Think’ examines assumptions about violence, what constitutes a ‘fight’ and what defines a ‘win’. Experience is the best teacher for Miller. Reason and tradition pale in comparison. After review of the relationship between objectives, strategies, tactics, and techniques, Miller provides an example of ‘thinking in the moment’ (p. 36) when undergoing a sudden violent attack. This is the ‘OODA’ loop, acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, derived from a military decision making model. Example is of one seeing (observing) a fist, realizing (orienting) the fist is punching toward you, deciding whether to block or duck, acting to duck. Problem with the OODA loop is the attacker is at step four which triggers defender’s step one. In Miller’s judgment, those who do well in ambush attacks eliminate OODA’s middle stages. Instead of orienting and deciding – take too much time – the new loop is ‘observe; act’, which means countering an attack with partial information and one “automatic reflex response.” (p. 38) Miller’s chapters on ‘Violence’ and ‘ Predators’ review types of violence (mostly over status or image, or to gain resources) and types of criminals (first-timers who have mad e a mistake, hustlers who work the ‘system’ in prison and out, and predators for whom prison is just another pool of victims. In this context, Miller discusses the ‘chemical cocktail’ or what happens when the human body undergoes extreme stress when threatened with harm and injury, when assaulted in reality. Training and experience in martial arts is one thing; an assault is altogether something else. Shooters miss intended targets less than two yards away two out of three shots; three to seven yards away, four out of five shots. (p. 58) When under stress, technique suffers. What happens to the body is reduction of peripheral vision and hearing, blood leaves legs and arms, fingers and toes and pools in internal organs, fine motor skills and coordination are thrown out of sync. Additionally, the mind distorts perception of time and spatial distances and memory will fade or even entertain irrelevant thoughts and images. Point is when attacked, even when one is an experienced martial artist, the body will not respond as sharply as it does in a normal competitive environment. In fact, the uninitiated when attacked and in fear of their lives normally respond better than a trained fighter because such response is truly gut-level ‘flailing’. Miller adapts this ‘chemical cocktail’ phenomenon under extreme stress to his time-fear matrix: no time and scared versus no time and terrified; and some time and scared versus some time and terrified (p. 67). Point is when under attack you must fight the deer-in-the-headlights ‘freeze’ – not getting away, not fighting back. This is emphasized repeatedly throughout Meditations (see Index entry (p. 177) ‘freezing’, pp. 8, 11-12, 38-39, 46-47, 57, 59-62, 65, 67, 69-70, 72, 122). Most important! Training to fight and fighting are different. To approximate ‘breaking’ people means slow, repetitive movements, pulling punches, my-turn/your-turn exchanges, sparring, gloved fists – all of which concern safety – and absent in an ambush. To respond effectively to the fast, hard, close-in, surprise attack, Miller advises learning to fight back from a position of disadvantage (blindfolded, face down, etc.); to ‘flip’ the emotional switch from ‘friendly’ to attack mode, to get used to being touched, even slapped, on the face. (p. 118) Most of all, never give up. The rest of Meditations concerns techniques for fighting back and dealing with the psychological post-traumatic stress of violence. One of the most important points Miller makes in his meditation on violence is that fighting is the least likely to affect one’s survival in a sudden, surprise assault: “It’s better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die.” (p. 84) This is a book for realists who will avoid fighting but want to be ready when one comes.Personal note. My brother Bill, a Vietnam Veteran and retired fire fighter and Coast Guardsman, was shot with a handgun at close range this past July in a rural part of North Carolina. In our discussion about the event after his discharge from the hospital, he told me his first thought after being hit in the abdomen was ‘why did he shoot me?’ But he did not freeze in front of the assailant. In fact, he cinched his belt feeling the evisceration of his bowels, and ran away – ran low to the ground and weaving side to side and for at least a hundred yards and then got into the underbrush by the roadside. He survived by running away and he attributes this to training at Quantico for boarding freighters on the high seas. Training does work, but the reality of violence remains in a category by itself.

Review by

This book, while interesting, doesn't really fit into one genre. It seems like the author didn't know exactly what to write about--is it a guide to winning a fight? a guide to being a martial artist? how to win triumph over violence? The subject is captivating, and the author certainly has personal experiences to share. However, the book lacks cohesion and reads more like a train of thought than a well-written piece.

Review by

I'm coming at this book having had 2 self defence classes years ago, so I'm not necessarily the target audience, but I got this book as an early review copy and have been enthralled. It's a quick read, the advice no nonsense and sounding like he's talking to you over a beer, swearing included. The author has tonnes of personal experience to draw on, and he's really down on formal martial arts, and extensively lists why training mostly won't work in real life encounters. I talked to a friend of mine who's been training in martial arts for years, and he's come to similar conclusions as the author, so it was nice to get corroboration.One bit of advice reminds me of the Han Solo quote, "Never tell me the odds" - if you're not told something is impossible, you can sometimes figure out a way to do it. So much of self defence is mental, giving yourself permission to be rude and/or violent. I like his concept of having "Go" buttons: things that happen that you've decided ahead of time will trigger an immeditate and violent response.

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