Friday, May 26, 2006

Condition White for Self Defense

I'm not a poet like Tiel, so I can't say it as well as she did here or here. I really hate the cancer that walks like a city, Las Vegas. It's a monument to all that is worst in the human spirit: greed, self-deception, lust unalloyed by love or even human connection, addiction, drunkeness, gluttony and the shutdown of all the higher faculties. It produces nothing, just extracts money from visitors with mathematical precision and pours water out onto the desert. It is hard to express just how much I loathe that place. (Note to self: Don't hold back. Tell them how you really feel.)

We were just in Las Vegas on family business. Fifteen years ago it was appalling. Now it's plain terrifying.

Everyone knows how the lights on the Strip and in the casino don't let you know whether it's day or night. The bars stay open, and there are no clocks on the walls where there is gambling. That's only part of it. The buildings lack all sense of scale and proportion. It's difficult to tell how big or how far away anything is. Rooms can be close without fostering intimacy or enormous while still being oppressive.

There is noise everywhere, but it's chaotic, arrhythmic and as intrusive as possible. The lights are even worse. With the animated billboards, neon signs and slot machine displays there is movement everywhere at odd angles and and from strange directions. It never stops. It's all designed to attract attention while shortening the attention span and encouraging compulsive behavior. The Strip supports enormous luxurious hotels and huge casinos on the strength of twenty five cent slot machines. They have to provide an environment that encourages people to focus in on the machine or the gaming table and keep ponying up.

As long as you ignore your environment and keep feeding money into the city's maw you are pretty safe. Food, drink and entertainment will be provided. Large men in gray suits keep regular criminals away from the customers. If you step outside the psychic box it becomes overwhelming in a few minutes and psychosis-inducing in a couple days. I've spent the last few years trying to live in Condition Yellow on Colonel Jeff Cooper's Color Code (as modified by many others) - relaxed, prepared for trouble and aware of the environment. Most of the time it's an excellent state to be in. It is the minimum acceptable level of preparation for an armed person. It is very difficult to maintain unfocused awareness when there is so much going on which is designed to distract and disorient.

Over long periods you can learn what is important in that environment and tune out the rest. You can try to maintain environmental awareness and activation during complete sensory overload without specific targets. Or you can dial your awareness down and revert to Condition White, experiencing Las Vegas the way you are meant to. I didn't have time for the first, got cranky and twitchy doing the second and (reluctantly) went to the third while inside "safe" places like casinos. Eventually we just kept repeating to each other "We'll be out of here in a few days and we'll never have to come back."

If you're teaching awareness to martial artists, bodyguards, cops or similar by all means take them there for a final exam. Have your students spend three or four days on the Strip visiting casinos in quick succession and walking around outside, especially at night. If they can go the whole time in Condition Yellow without having a psychotic episode or falling into Condition White out of psychic self defense they've passed the test. Hell, take off your belt, bang your head on the floor and beg them to take you on as their student.Either they've mastered the material or the local Zen monastery has snuck one of their Sages into your school as a ringer.

So ¡Muerte Las Vegas! The place would be improved if the US military moved the Nevada Test Site to half a mile above the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard.

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