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The Elevator Pitch

Tim Larkin 12-17

(No, it’s not a new throw, sorry.)

I’m always interested in finding better ways to describe what it is we do, to circumvent the obstacle of communication that lies between action and the replication of that action:  I know what you need to do, but I need you to know what you need to do.

My current favorite elevator-door-is-closing pitch:

We look at how the human machine breaks, how to do that work with our bare hands, and how to take advantage of the results of that work.

Comes very close to mechanical perfection in getting the point across (much better than the smart-alecky “we treat people like furniture”).  I am a huge fan of keeping things as mechanical as possible—people ruin everything, and as soon as personality and emotions are involved we go beyond the cold equations of physics and physiology and into the infinite fog of gray areas…

The elevator pitch, pithy as it may be, gives rise to more questions than it answers, especially when the mechanics rub up against “peopleness”.  Much of the human world we love is contradicted in that statement; it’s alien and unsettling in what it implies.  In the end we are training people and so the people-part must be dealt with.

Here is my latest whack at it, an elevator pitch for the Petronas Towers, perhaps:

We are told by civilization, society and our better nature that violence is the tool of the victimizer, the desperate, the insane.  And so we turn our backs on it and leave it in the hands of the worst people, making ourselves into perfect victims who seek a comfortable, rational way to change a murderously irrational person’s mind.

Unfortunately, such a thing doesn’t exist.

There is only violence—no self-defense or “anti-violence”—just someone doing it and someone getting done.  Once plunged into the asocial realm the day belongs to the one who knows how to break the human machine and shut off an active brain.  We practice smashing that most complicated of objects against the concrete to discover what a simple thing that act is, and in appreciating both the fragility of human life and the illusory nature of the social veneer we become resolved to preserve both at all costs:  to be the one doing violence when there is no choice and to literally go out of our way to avoid it when that luxury exists.

The difference between life and death (in a purely biomechanical sense) is but a few delicate membranes, a precariously balanced homeostasis; we are each of us an intricate clockwork that can be unsprung or jammed in small ways to outsize effect.  Mechanically, very little is required to take a life.  Being sane and socialized we believe in our bones this can’t be so—we feel, so deeply, so completely, the natural disinclination toward real injury and killing that we can’t imagine it as a casual thing.  We believe that one would have to be worked up into a monstrous froth to batter down the bulwark of the social contract, and—the most dangerous conceit—that everyone must feel as we do.

It’s a beautiful idea and a beautiful world.  We just don’t live in it.

Violence is universal and available to everyone in equal measure, both in the doing and the receiving.  Everything that separates us from harm is imaginary—simple belief is what keeps us from each other’s throats and anyone can chuck their voluntary participation in the social contract at any time.  This means there is hope for us on that worst of days, should it ever come—we have the potential to act—but it also means we should strive to never provide the “last straw” in our social or antisocial interactions with others.

Studying violence as a survival tool is not about the ratcheting of paranoia but preparation in the service of peace of mind and the amelioration of fear.  It’s thinking the unthinkable, having a plan that forestalls panic, thereby diminishing any terror the beast may hold over us.  Our goal is to slay that imaginary dragon, dissect it, lay its dread secrets bare to strip it of all mystery and replace fear with actionable knowledge.

Knowing a thing, intimately, is not the same as venerating or worshipping it.  We do not study violence for ego gratification or as a means to power; we do not condone the acts of the victimizer, the criminal, the murderously insane.  When used unjustly and without threat or cause violence diminishes us all.  It can only be justified as the final recourse when all else has failed—when inaction could potentially cost lives.  The fact remains, however, that we get the best information from the worst people.  Those who use violence regularly, successfully, must be observed to learn the workings of the tool.  We do not seek to emulate the chaos in their lives, to leave ruin in our wake, but to operate, mechanically, as they do when our lives depend on it.

To say that we train only to deliver beatings misses the larger point, the one with real daily utility.  Knowing the thing, knowing the cost and devastation that comes after—win or lose— should make us more cautious, more caring, that we may never have to go there if we have the choice.  It should be life-altering in the way we conduct ourselves, not through a discrete code or half-remembered list of tenets but as a natural byproduct of understanding.  While conflict may be exciting real violence is simply terrible.  No sane person who knows it wants to do it again.

So we practice breaking the human machine to count the cost of the stakes, to file away a plan for events that would otherwise be lethal, and to appreciate more fully the miracle of everyday life, both in the simple drawing of breath and the complex comfort of the social web we weave with family, friends and fellow travelers.

We train because it’s good to be alive.

–Chris Ranck-Buhr TFT Master Instructor



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