Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hairy Chested Enlightenment

Lao Tsu said that anyone who talked about the way didn't understand it... then proceeded to write a book on it, so take his advice for what it is worth.

At the library, there are dozens of books on spiritual growth and the Tao and enlightenment. They all sound the same. They have a shared idea of what is deep and what is profound. The books on tape share a soft-spoken, educated, priveleged voice. They talk with reverance of nature. If you meet them, the people who make a living by pointing The Way, they always have soft hands.

I was raised with many people of deep wisdom. Most not only reveranced nature but had spent much of their life living close to it or wrestling their living from the land on ranches or in forests or mines. Their hands were never soft. They rarely spoke. They listened, and you learned to listen in their presence.

I'll tell you of my moment of enlightenment (but be careful, since we have all been told that it can't be explained). While white water rafting at the age of 17, I was flipped and trapped under a waterfall. Despite wet suit and flotation vest, I was pressed hard against the river bed. I was down long enough to not just realize that I was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it but for the fact to sink in.

I didn't want to die, but in a second or so I realized that didn't matter, since once I was dead my identity, including my wish to live, would be obliterated. In a matter of a minute or so, it wouldn't matter to me.

I moved on, then, thinking of my poor friends who would miss me... but in ten years I would just be at most a painful memory. In twenty or thirty no one would remember me. I didn't matter.

In perthaps a hundred years, no one would remember these friends or my family. They too would be obliterated. They didn't matter.

In a thousand years or ten thousand, no one would remember my nation. It too would share in oblivion and prove to not matter, to never have mattered.

The same for my species, and the earth and the universe and God. When the last star winks out, none of it will have mattered... and in ten billion years I will still be nothing...and equal to God.

That was the first stage in enlightenment, to understand that nothing matters. Hence everything is equal.

Since I was going to die and it didn't matter, I had the freedom to choose how to die for no other reason than my personal preferance: would I prefer to die with calm acceptance or to fight against the inevitable purely for the sake of fighting. I admired fighters, so I fought, and dragged myself across the rocks of the riverbed beyond the undertow and lived.

This is the part that authors have a hard time with- describing the clarity of perception in the moments after satori. You know that you can crush rocks in your hands, run up cliffs. You can hear individual insects under specific rocks on the other side of the valley, colors are clear and so are humans... It is also not important. It's just kind of cool.

To sum up- nothing matters, but some stuff matters to me.

Artificial priorities disappear, meaningless questions ("Why are we here?") are outed as time wasting, self-indulgent, self-centered bullshit. Buddhists speak of attachment. Attachment is the 'therefore', eg "I love you, therefore..." You must love me back? Not likely. Nothing bad must happen to you? Can't control the universe, partner.

So I love because I love without expectation of results or even meaning. I spend time with the people I enjoy having in my world and when they move on, they move on. I act the way I would be proud to act not to set an example or because I should but because it pleases me. I like strong people. I will be strong. I like skillful people, I will develop skill. I like people who take care of others, I will protect and defend and if I die doing the job, cool. Because I am going to die anyway and nothing will ever have mattered.

The first stage:The worst part about becoming one with the universe is that you can't be tickled, since you are the universe and you can't tickle yourself.
Second stage: What do you mean? Of course you can tickle yourself.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Sosuishitsu-ryu, sometimes called Sosuishi-ryu (to take the 'shit' out in the 50's) or Futagami-ryu is a style of unarmed combat (formally called kumi-uchi, but casually, jujutsu) and swordsmanship that has been handed down in a single family since 1650. When I first wandered into the dojo in Portland I was looking for a judo school- I was a hot young (and arrogant) judoka moving to the area.

Dave Sumner, the sensei, broke through the aloof arrogance and had me out on the mat in a matter of minutes. Though it took me months to realize it, he was an exceptional teacher, fighter and martial artist... and those are three very different things. It was a formal, Japanese- style class. Not the rigid militarism of some, but very formal, very aware of 350+ years of tradition. I first decided to stay with the school because of the quality of the students. Dave is modest and never played hard with beginners -it took time to realize how good he was- but his students were amazing. Then I saw the formal kata of Sosuishitsu-ryu and I was hooked. I'd never been a kata person. I'd always preferred hard randori or kumite to forms... when I saw these old two-person kata they were the most brutal things I had ever seen.

I'll talk about kata as a training system later. In Dave's dojo, though the kata was and always will be the heart of koryu (old school), you didn't practice it for a long time simply because it wasn't safe unless your basic fighting skills (especially distancing, timing and falling) were very, very good.

Fast forward fifteen years later: I teach in a converted garage, concrete floor, street clothes, heavy bags, weapons. It's a traditional system, but I'm not a traditional teacher. First names, very little bowing. My emphasis has shifted largely from technique to principle eg I was taught dozens of elbow locks... but there are only two ways to do it, the rest is window dressing. More, my emphasis has shifted from the physical to the will- all the skill in the world will not help you if you freeze in surprise or shrink at the onset of pain. If you have a little technique but apply it with true ruthless aggression (and not one martial artist in a hundred has even seen a true killing rage) very little can stop you. We groundfight with foam bricks; fight from the clinch with training knives on our belts; practice slow motion with iron bars instead of batons; practice deescalation, escape and evasion, recognizing a predator dynamic and reading terrain. We practice flipping the switch from conversation to on! in a second.

In the end, though, it's still tradition and it's still in the kata. About 350 years ago a bushi set up a system to possibly survive if you were ever unlucky enough to have your weapon break or drop in a battle. It was brutal and close and fast. It amazes me that a man named Futagami Hannosuke knew more about staying alive in a modern jail than any of the DT instructors or "modern combat masters" that I have trained with since.

I'm not a traditional instructor- I have a lot of experience, enough to never say that there is one right way, enough to value heart over strength or speed. Educated enough to pursue modern training methods, experience enough to see where those break down and where traditional training helps. But I am a traditional (or maybe classical) teacher. It's about the students, about giving them the best chance I can in any shitstorm of blood and fear they might face. It's about war stories and drills and flexibility and encouragement. It's about trying to teach them to do what I've done without the injuries and memories.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Learning To See

When I teach jujutsu to civilians or Defensive Tactics (DTs) to officers, it's really about teaching them to see. Face it: you are a human being and have had a human body your whole life. You are intimately familiar with how a body moves and what hurts... yet put someone in a martial arts class and let them move freely and very often they will move a hand or foot through a damage zone, subconsciously careful not to hit the opponent, to use a 'right' move.

Years ago a judoka joined my class. I told him, "You're going to get leg-locked a lot until you learn to see them coming." It was true- the techniques were invisble to the point of being magical until he learned to see. Once he learned to see, they were everywhere. If you ever have the opportunity to take a good tracking class, the same thing will happen with the ground... a world of information will open up that is invisible right now.

Someone once said, "The bitch about ignorance isn't what you don't know. It's what you think you know that isn't so."

Groundfighting with Rob today, I was kneeling on his elbow and controlling his body with my other knee and one hand. It left a hand free to strike. Sean, coaching from the side, told him to pull his hand down. "I can't. It's pinned." It wasn't. He thought it was. From my knee to the toes of the foot was a big triangle with lots of space on the toe end... but Rob had decided it was pinned. So he struggled against the weight instead of struggling against the emptiness.

Later, Sean was advising him to use pain to get a predictable flinch reaction. We played with it for a few minutes and then I pointed out responses to negative space. If I have pinned someone's hand against his chest for a few seconds and suddenly release pressure, he will reach into the suddenly free space. In this case, giving up an arm bar. It's like a good artist drawing a tree. You can draw the leaves or you can draw the spaces between the leaves. You can feel the opponent or feel his absence.

So much of bad training is instilling illusion, and so many people turn their brains off and accept the words. "It only takes twelve pounds of pressure to snap the knee." They hear it, they repeat it... but if one went to the gym and placed a twelve-pound barbell on his locked knee, he would know it wasn't true. But one ounce at 1200 feet per second will blow the leg almost off.

So much of good training is teaching to see accurately, to interpret accurately and to act decisively. Accuracy is operative. The bad part about illusions and denial is that you cannot see your own. If you are not careful, you will pass them on and they will become the 'truth' of the next generation.

I teach this and yet I know there is soooooo much I don't see. I'll keep looking.

Friday, July 22, 2005


For years, I though that my soulmate would be the woman who would make me feel complete. My literal other half that would make me whole and quiet my spirit.

I found that she was the one I would spend the rest of my life striving to be worthy of.

I thought love was an emotion, a feeling: sweaty palms and a dry mouth and an aching yearning. I found it was an action. Love is something that you do and show every day.

I call her the keeper of my sanity. Sometimes my world is ugly. I'm paid to deal with things and people that most people pretend don't exist. There are dark memories in my mind and heart, memories of brutality and selfishness and sheer waste. To know that I can come home, look at her and KNOW that on balance the world is a good place is powerful. I never doubt who I am working for and who I want to make proud.

Reading the Blog of one of my friends( )Steve wrote that our mates are our mirror images. That we fall in love with what we are. If so, I am a damn fine person.

Eighteen years and counting. Still loving you, K

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Big Mistakes, Not Small Ones

Yesterday I led my team on a hostage rescue exercise. The exercise was primarily intended for CNT (Crisis Negotiation Teams) from our agency and another local agency. The Tactical Team's role was to provide security, gather intelligence and be prepared to breach immediately if it went bad.

Our response was good- the entire team responded to the page and arrived before the evaluators were ready to start evaluating. They had to call the scout team back because there was nothing to scout yet.

Things started rolling and I was coordinating elements at the site, updating the tactical plan and maintaing commo with all the units. I eventually had to go to the scene and go hands-on, rearranging the perimeter and doing some tricky scouts. I've been team leader for a long time now and I miss just being one of the stack. It's sad when sometimes the first tool I reach for in a call-out is a pen. So I loved the scouting: low crawling silently while covered with gear so that I could send a fiber-optic lens under the doors.

Negotiations were going well, but part of my job is to keep the Incident Commander (IC) apprised of when we could make an entry with least risk of injury to the hostages and update him on any windows of opportunity. There were several, but we didn't get the 'green light'.

When we got to a place where I expected rough spots in the negotiations (only the two hard-core threats and the civillian hostages remained) I put my team in position and advised the IC that we were ready to go on his command. It was a double entry, the first element composed of a small snatch team under my supervision to secure the hostages and a larger element to make entry into a big open space and lock the area down, partially as a diversion, partially as pure firepower.

The IC called me on the radio. The transmit button for my throat mike is velcroed to my chest. I hit it with two fingers and said, "Miller. Go."

I looked up and my first element was breaching. Thinking, "Shit shit shit" I signaled the other element, gave "Go, Go, Go!" over the radio and sprinted after first element. (They were in, pulling them back would have given everything away and provoked the threats, not following them in would have left them with too many threats and too big an area to secure).

We covered and searched the area (a prison kitchen) and had both threats and hostages proned out in a matter of seconds. They had been so shocked that no one had been able to move- a perfect entry. All four were searched, handcuffed and removed, we repeated the search of the area and set perimeter security for a crime scene. When it was clear, I turned on the point man for the first element, "Why'd you make entry?"

"You ordered me to."

"I did not, no way."

Then the rest of the stack chimed in. "You did sarge. You said 'Go' and gave a thumbs up. We all saw it."

Yup. When I pushed the radio button, my thumb was in the air. When I said "Go" to the incident commander, they all heard it. Thumbs up and go...

The first lesson- if you have really good people who you trust absolutely, you can sometimes make a huge mistake and come out looking great.

We later found out that this was supposed to be a CNT training and the Tactical Team was not to enter at all. The role players had been instructed that if we entered or they suspected we were about to they were to kill the hostages. They never had time. Both bad guys were played by SWAT members from a neighboring agency. One said it was the best entry he had ever seen.

It worked out well, but it was still a huge mistake.

Training is the best time for mistakes.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Funeral for a Child

Babies shouldn't be buried. We dress it up with suits and flowers and sanitize the proceedings physically and emotionally. I've smelled death, but never at a funeral. The father, on his knees, lowers the tiny white coffin into the hole. A little truck with a bed full of dirt backs up to the grave and they have to pull back a fake grass carpet from under the feet of the father and the chair of the mother to get close enough. The father lays one shovel full of dirt, symbolically, over the tiny coffin and turns away.

It is a children's cemetary and all around are flat (easy to mow) plaques with names and dates that are far too close together. It is a field of dead babies.

The family takes great strength in a faith that I find repellant. They speak, with absolute certainty of "God's sovereignity" that each of us belongs to this god and it is his right to take any person at any time for any reason. Their god is far beyond human hang-ups like honor and fairness and decency.

It repels me more today because last week as part of an investigation I had to read a journal written by a child molester in custody. He too felt that he had a right to do what he wanted with his children. Everything hinged on the word 'his' and he saw no difference between his daughter, his shoes or any other object he 'owned'. They were his, and that meant he could do with them as he willed.

Their faith helps them where my cynicism might crush me in the same situation, so I can't begrudge them... but I find it very hard when pious people justify the acts of an all-powerful god with the same words that criminals use to justify immense cruelty and depravity.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Self-defense is not combat. Combat is not fitness training. Fitness training is not dueling. Dueling is not sparring. Sparring is not personal growth. Personal growth is not assault training.

Many martial artists in the comfort of the training hall can look at their martial art and believe that it is all of these things. Violence is conflict with risk of injury, right? So war and boxing and an intruder in your bedroom are all violence, right? So they're all the same thing, right? No.

I have to be clear in my own mind. I've been a martial artist for nearly twenty five years, and that's one thing. I spend most of my working days in close proximity with criminals, some violent, some mentally ill and that's a different thing. I also lead the tactical team for the corrections system and a tactical op is not the same at all. I have to be clear, because sometimes I am teaching a very old piece of another country's culture, much of the time I have to be prepared to survive an ambush and sometimes I have to take down the criminal quickly and with absolute control. These are very different things.

Friday is private lessons with a fascinating woman. She has studied martial arts for many years and now she has asked me to teach her about violence. About surviving violence. About controlling it. The class is mental more than physical. Predation dynamics, awareness, presence and body language. Even the physical stuff is mental- explosive action, stealing initiative, contact-response, overwhelming the threat physically and mentally.

It dawned on me today when I pulled a knife during warm-ups that she was still fighting bodies and not minds. Through martial arts, she saw violence as a physical skill instead of a personal one. She was dealing with a problem (the knife) rather than a person (the threat).

So today was about the mind. About the mindset that I use when force is inevitable, becoming an implacable predator, a force of nature. I remembered being hit while in that mind and being offended that the prey had the temerity to fight... before rolling over him like he wasn't there, despite a weight difference of over a hundred pounds in his favor.

About the mindset of a soldier who must be a member of a team before he is an individual or he risks everything, including his teammates and the mission.

About the mindset necessary to recover in an ambush when you feel something break over the side of you head and don't know who or how many attacked you or why... and if you focus on the 'why' if you get stuck in the mindset where things need to make sense, you will freeze.

We all have a little niggling voice in the back of our heads that tries to tear us down. I told my student today what mine has said over the last 15 years and 300+ "Hazardous Incidents". That no matter how much skill or experience there will always be a little voice whispering that so far it's all been luck, just luck.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Karma and uncertainity

Not to be overly dramatic, but I might have saved a life Friday. A gangbanger bigger and heavier than I am was choking another against a table. I peeled him off and spun him to the ground. He started to rise and I yelled "Stay down!" with the sensei voice and he did... there was blood everywhere from a cut on his chin.

Hence the karma question- if you save the life of someone whom you know to be a violent criminal, is it a good thing? Do you take on responsibility for his future predation?

The lotus-eaters, the ones who talk about enlightenment as if it was joy instead of understanding, will say 'no'. They don't want to believe that a good act can have evil consequences. It can, and you are responsible for it all, good or bad.

So why did I do it? Because I wear a uniform. Because I want to live in a world where the people in uniforms do the job expected.

Uncertainity, too. Tomorrow I will be teaching jujutsu. I will show them how to put down a 220 pound person without hurting him because this incident reminded me and I don't think I've shown that in a long while. The young ones will think it is cool. The teenagers will fantasize about being in that position. They won't notice I won't be sparring. I won't be sparring because I don't have the results from the criminal's blood test yet. He's been cleared of HIV but not Hep C, not yet.

Until I know, certain aspects of my life will be on hold.
All to save a criminal.