Sunday, September 13, 2015

On Experts, the Term, and the Expertise, Especially with Knife and, or Gun Experts

Just some ramblings on the terms expert, expertise advanced. 

     “It is the quality of the answers to the questions that make anyone an expert, backed by enough time and grade in the subject.”

     Expert or advanced. They can be confusing words to the novice. I get emails everyday from people trying to contact local instructors from our instructor webpage. I quiz them a bit and then send them to the instructors. One odd observation was from a woman who did not want to reach a listed, “advanced” instructor because she was not advanced,

     “I am only a beginner. I need a beginner instructor.”

     What now? She (a regular citizen) completely misread the commonly understood rank listings we all take so for granted. I say “commonly” as in what we insiders inside  “the business” take for granted. I can only imagine what the word “expert” does to some novices? Scares them away? I actually already know what the word expert means to some folks in our business of hands, sticks, knives and guns. Often quite a negative.

     Now this essay is not a personal rant in a debate or revenge. No one of substance has complained about me, to me, about me or you, through me, about anyone or any of this, that usually kicks off a little rant or tirade. I am just thinking about this stuff "out loud" today. Though I do get the occasional email from an idiot, complaining about knife training, claiming things like:

     “No one can be a knife expert,” and...
     “You are a fool because you speak of knife expertise, and...
     "You are fucking clown. You are 100 years too late (to be doing anything with a 
      knife in a gun  world)."
   and so on...etc.

     Oh, and by the way, I have never called myself an expert in anything. Though, I am and have been used as an “expert witness,” on these subjects in court and pre-court, proceedings, but I don’t call myself an expert. I just “know some stuff about stuff.” I know more stuff about certain kinds of stuff than other people. I fall short in a ton of other areas. Tons.

     You can always be an expert in “this or that” subject that “the loudest and/or the most jealous” complainers deem okay. Oddly, for many complainers it's also okay to be a expert or a “Grandmaster” in shooting, as some renown gun schools will dub you after many classes. A Grandmaster of Guns!  Grandmaster of Shotgun. Master of Handgun. Not many really complain about gun grandmasters or masters, or really the term - gun experts. 

     Curiously, coincidentally while writing this, I got my early issue of this month's SWAT magazine and Scott Reitz's article is about gun masters. He articulately dismisses the idea of this kind of master nomenclature with firearms. Everything Scott writes is worth reading, but this was special. I  myself have trouble with the title master and grandmaster. Its a silly term unless its about the card game of bridge, or something. All this supreme, great-great grandmasters...el grando super-supremo- well...anyway. If you use the terms master or grandmaster, you are usually in kind of a real martial artsy mindset and world. Most people in the real world of fighting crime and war won't use those terms. Scott Reitz goes on to explain that when you are a real veteran, you understand just how incredibly situational each fight is, and how easily you can fail or lose.The word "luck" comes to mind, too.
     BUT, to some, using the word “expert” in various other fighting categories is a bloated and hideous mistake and such a weak, egotistical, character flaw. This is especially true with knife training. Using the term expert with the knife subject, or even the term “expertise,” seems to rub some sensitive skin the wrong way.  They will belittle some martial arts grandmaster, but some may bow and dribble from the mouth at a gun grandmaster.

     But back to the more diverse, ubiquitous, English language term -  expert! Expert defined simply in our society:

A person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; a specialist; an authority.”

“Military - the highest rating in rifle marksmanship, above that of marksman and sharpshooter, or a person who has achieved such a rating.”

“Possessing special skill or knowledge; trained by practice; skillful or skilled.”

     In the...“community” or inside many other "communities," you have to survive a good...what? Solid ten years on a subject to be considered an expert. Is ten years some magic number? No, not really, it just seems to be tossed out there for a vague, generalization. A suggestion.

     Ten years of study and work or not, there are indeed some Neanderthals out there think that all knife training consists of absolutely nothing more than...

“...sticking the pointy end of the knife into the other guy.”  

     HA, ha. Well, yes. Yes, it does, Fred Flintsone, in the most caveman sense. But like shooting a bullet into another person? That all you need for firearms training too? “Put the pointy end of the bullet into the other guy?” The same Freds who say that about knife expertise are often the same ones who shoot firearms thousands of hours to improve those skills. They are often the very same Freds that yak on endlessly about gun minutia, travel afar to complete this or that course from this or that “gun god,” all just to stick that pointy end of a bullet into the other guy?  And yet with knives, then they want you to just stick the pointy end in someone, sans ANY and all training on the subject. "That's all you need!"



     Some Freds declare you can’t call yourself a knife expert, or be called one, unless you’ve been,

     a) in a knife fight, and, or,
     b) stabbed, slashed and killed someone with a knife.

      Not the same standard for guns though when you declare someone a gun master or a gun expert, huh? You don’t have to shoot and, or kill someone to be a gun expert or Grand-Pobah. Gun experts aren’t run through those same deadly, experience standards.  

     You can, of course attain an expert ranking in firearms in the military, (or certainly gun courses) having never actually shot or killed anyone, and your military (or police) firearms medals sit proudly in your mental or physical shadow box, and your gun school certificates hang on your mental or physical wall. “Qualified Expert.” “Qualified Master,” etc.

     There are actually many facets to fighting with a gun. Many that justifies much work and skill development surrounding the simple, mechanical use of the "pointy end rule.". The same is true with a knife. There are important things to consider and learn with a gun and with a knife. 

For example, just with a knife there are:
- The whole pre-fight problem-thing
- Threats/verbal skills
- Carry sites on the body, and just off the body
- Stress quick draws, standing, kneeling, sitting, ground
- Saber or reverse grip.
- Right hand grip. Left hand grip.
- Fighting while standing, kneeling/sitting, ground.
- Dodging, evading, blocking skills
- Support footwork “while holding a knife”
- Ground maneuvers “while holding”
- The stab. The slash.
- Support strikes and kicks -“while holding” a knife
- Target knowledge.
- Legal issues.
- Various environments.
- Less than lethal knife options
- Various tricks of the criminal and the enemy soldier.
- Take downs while holding a knife.
- Dealing with opponent's arms
- The thick "art" of dueling." (Not unlike boxing? Stick fighting?)
- Your knife vs. unarmed attackers
- Your knife vs. stick attackers
- Your knife vs. knife attackers
- Your knife vs. some gun threats
- Your knife vs. multiple people with multiple weapons
- Overall, physical savvy, athleticism, mojo (all while holding a knife)

 All bit more involved than the Fred Flintstone remark of - "just sticking the pointy end in." 
      But, I digressed to the knife, I want to get back on the generic, "name/title/expert" subject. So, you can be an expert in fixing cars, or making quilts, fitness, bowling and cooking, praying, just not in fighting and certain kinds of fighting? Like knife fighting? As with guns and knives - if you are going to do something, you learn all the good stuff about the tool and work on those things. I think the practice of attaining various titles of progression run alongside a human brings desire to grow, learn and keep track of this process. In ANYTHING! I mean ANY subject. Look at colleges and degrees. Look at the professional world with things like “plumber journeyman, tradesman welder, etc” titles. Military rank! Need I go on with this? 

     We are completely surrounded by educational achievements and titles. Completely. It is what makes the human race tick along. I mean, if you are a complete monk, floating in a state of Nirvana, then you don’t need any of these markings or tattoos. Then, bully, bully for you! But you know, even the Dali Llama likes his title. Mother Teresa liked hers. And then there’s sainthood, you know. A jury of saints don’t pick saints. Non, sainted, religious ...“experts” do.

     I consider, say…someone like Dwight McClemore a Bowie knife expert, because he has held, worked on and with, bonded with and researched the Bowie/Big Knife for decades. Ask him any question about any aspect on the Bowie use and history. He has numerous applauded books and films. He knows stuff. He knows so much stuff, he is an expert.

Dwight looks hard at a knife 


L.A.P.D. SWAT retired Scott Reitz 

      I would say that retired L.A.P.D. Scott Reitz is an expert in shooting combatives. Plank member of L.A.P.D. SWAT!  I would call Paul Howe an expert in military shooting, Etc.



"Blawkhawk Down," Delta Force Paul Howe 

     Can anyone say Massad Ayoob isn't an expert in guns and legal issues? It's something he has investigated, lectured and written about for ages. For decades. There are more and a few of the modern, pop teachers that might be on your list and might not be on mine, but in every field of endeavor, we rely on the experts like these folks to pass info and things on.

     It seems like on an esoteric level, but one ironic measure, an expert is someone who does not call himself one! How’s that for a Zen riddle. This can be very hard if you are putting a professional resume together and you want to teach or testify on hands, sticks, knives, guns, tanks or missiles or whatever. Without promoting yourself as having some expertise on subjects, you’ll be unemployed, starving and cobbling shoes to eat. The field you are so smart, wise and skilled in, cannot be spread. You are wasted. Wasted because you are busy making donuts or filling a shoe order by morning and have to cancel teaching. Wasted unless you advertise. Wasted unless you advertise properly. 

     Advertising is such a tightrope, a thin line to get jobs and not cross over. You cannot appear braggadocios, or exaggerating. A tightrope I tell you! I have always believed in the old military phrase "the quiet professional," but at some point you have eat food and have a home too. Could luck with that tightrope. Its a challenge to maintain your self respect, respect of your community and eat a steak once in awhile.

      Inside this dilemma of titles is where we often see the somewhat more acceptable term of “subject matter expert.” Some very professional and military worlds use the term, “subject matter expert.” This is also quite universal in many other fields, too. And ordinarily, acceptable lingo. To function as a professional, advertised expert, subject matter expert, expert witness, or master, or grandmaster, you have to deal with factions of people/customers. Beginners, advanced, other veterans in the field (other experts) and finally your own self - your only integrity. The bloody mirror of integrity. Can you somehow advertise these titles and make all of these factions happy?  Can you answer these "who, what, when, where, how and why" questions?

Who?  Who are you really and who are you advertising too?
What? What are you saying? What will all these factions of people think?
Where? Where have you trained? Where have you taught? To get such credentials?
When? When have you done these things?
How? How have you done these things? Hands-on? Book-learning?
Why? Why are you teaching? Money? Ego? Altruism? All of the above?
In the end it is a classic "totality of circumstances" thing, as defined by these questions.

     Answering these questions for myself, and on knives, I have been seriously messing around with knives since about 1986. Shooting since 1969 but officially/seriously since the 1970s starting in the Army. I find target shooting as hollow as just hitting a heavy bag. Got to do both, but its hollow. Many actually say, I might add, that I have written the best book about “knife fighting” out there. I have investigated hundreds of knife murders and assaults my own self, and have been schooled in hundreds more, by forensic e-x-p-e-r-t-s (there’s that word again!).

     Yet, still, I do not consider or call myself a “Knife Expert,” or a "Gun Expert."  Nor do I call myself one in public. While I have some detectable altruism, I also still need money to keep to this operation afloat. The conflicting pressures always exist in this monster I have created for myself. My secret dream of being the consummate, "quiet professional," is rather lost. Most of all, I still like exploring tactics and moves. I don't like the teaching part so much. Teaching seems to be a by-product, a release of my obsession about tactics and moves. Making money teaching affords me the time for my selfish endeavors of filtering through more and more tactics and moves. The vicious cycle perpetuates and boom! Your face is on a cover or a billboard, and you are no longer..."quiet."

     So, to finish these ramblings out, and I thank you for patience to get this far, I like to repeat the aforementioned phrase to the definition of expert or subject matter expert, that I started this essay out with - 

“It is the quality of the answers to the questions that make anyone an 
expert, backed by enough time and grade investigating the subject.”

     And very, very loosely, I like the general, ten-year immersion period on a subject as a generic marker. A starting point for evaluation? There are exceptions to this time of course, as with everything, but “round-about” ten years might make for a good marker. Otherwise one can argue for themselves that they are geniuses after 2 years. This claim could be true, but will be reviewed by…well…you know…other...e-x-p-e-r-t-s.

     In fact all your expert answers? They are, in the end, viewed by other experts. The peer review. And who in hell are they, anyway! Who do THEY think they are! Smug expert bastards!

     And the Zen riddle continues.

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