That splendid interview with me for Barnes and Noble, conducted by Mr Paul Goat Allen, is here at

Since the questions were excellent, I had a wonderful time answering them. What do you think?



A few decades back I did something I’ve never discussed, which I hope anyone would do: I saw someone having a heart attack (not a thing I’d witnessed before) and ran to get help from the nearby hospital (lucky) where they saved the guy. The only way in which martial arts helped was that I could run fast.

Or at least, that’s what I thought.

At the beginning of Context, there’s a scene where a woman’s been mugged, and several rather spooky guys step in the path of the running thief and clobber him, mostly through their unearthly coordination as they act in total unison. I think it was Heinlein that warned writers against losing major street cred (not his exact words!) by revealing where their ideas came from, since some of those beginnings are mundane and therefore banal. But I thought I’d share this one with you.

I’ve seen at least three violent incidents in busy commuter rail stations in London, right in the heart of the rush hour. This was one of the tamer ones, kind of, when a woman cried out pretty much as in the book, while a thief sprinted off with her handbag. The woman’s cry stopped a few people, while others failed to hear it. I wasn’t too quick off the mark myself, so I learned a lesson... the thief was already past me by the time I got my ass in gear and began to run. Three paces later, and I could stop running, because four navy ratings in civilian clothes moved straight into the fray with absolutely perfect teamwork and brought the thief down.

By the way, a thing to note if you see ‘police brutality’ when four or more officers grab hold of one guy... When someone’s struggling, particularly if they’re drunk or on drugs, then superior numbers are the only way to restrain the person without hurting them (unless the arresting officer holds a sixth dan in aikido). The only alternatives involve beating the crap out of the person. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

So where am I going with this? The most interesting point to me, witnessing these scenarios (one from, er, rather close up) was the way everybody else in the station reacted. Except in the case of the woman crying out (good move on her part), no one walking past the violence saw it.

I repeat: there were hundreds of witnesses, but no one saw it.

Locked down and buttoned up: people get through the crowded paranoia of a city like London, New York or Tokyo by erecting perceptual shutters and reading the smallest number of bits possible from the surroundings: just sufficient to keep their balance as they walk and find their way to the office. Nothing more.

If you were standing in a public washroom, deserted save for you and one person that started to cough and weave about at the other end of the cold and smelly place, would you look directly at that person, or would you turn away, blot them out of your perceptions, and leave the place with your shoulders hunched up, minding your business?

Not if you’re a martial artist whose nerves and muscles act in unison, where others’ are clumped up with tension and fear.

Or if you’re a writer.

It might have been the poet Natalie Goldberg who said a writer should walk through her own town as if she were a tourist. You know those times when the world shines bright and you’re in a country you’ve never visited before, and everything seems wonderful? Wouldn’t a tourist walking down the street where you live think exactly the same thing?

So what’s more important, the surroundings, or the state of mind of the person observing those surroundings?

Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one. I’ve certainly written it down before, though whether here or during an online interview, I can’t remember. It’s that old Zen parable about the monk sitting at the side of the road, some miles outside a town. A traveller heading towards the town stops and asks the monk: “What are the people like in this place?” The monk says: “What were they like in the town you’ve come from?”

“Miserable bunch,” says the traveller. “I hated the place.”

“Well I think,” replies the monk, “you’ll find them the same here.”

Later, a second traveller coming from the same direction stops beside the monk and asks the same question: what are the people like here? The monk again asks: “What were they like in the town you’ve come from?”

“Wonderful people! I loved the place,” says the traveller.

And you know the ending even before I tell you that...

“I think,” replies the monk, “you’ll find them the same here.”

There are links here to all sorts of other things that are interesting. The way people unused to physical exercise (middle-aged fear manifesting itself) sit in exercise machines and tug the weights around without grace, because they’ve not learned to make their whole body work in unison. (Instructors should teach them how to move and breathe before they sit them in machines. If you want to lift weight, free weights – barbells and dumbells and even kettlebells – are far better, because you learn technique and how to control your body. Think neuromuscular, not muscles.) And the way NLP (see previous blog) recognizes the community of sub-personalities that make up a mind: the NLP practitioners use the concept of ‘congruence’ as a fail-safe, double-checking that the hypnotic command they’ve planted in one portion of a person’s mind won’t contradict the values held by the other parts of the same mind.

Er... That’s assuming they’re trying to help the person! One of the NLP founders once gave a psychiatrist a deep phobia of going to his own office, thereby ending the guy’s career. Given what the psychiatrist had been doing to his own female patients, that was if anything a restrained response.

Simplify your life and live your values. Relax when you can, be alert when required. The universe is wonderful. Jeez... Get off yer soap box, already!

Oh, that was another part of me, just joining in... OK, all of me are off now, to do some globe trotting. Take care, Pilots, and enjoy everything. The Labyrinth loves you...!