Friday, September 30, 2005

Memories and Not

Years ago, I had a weird and thankless night. It was a combination of pulling off a difficult and dangerous operation immediately followed by being denied a very simple and very necessary (for the agency) request. The message was very clear, it seemed: "We need you to deal with the ugly stuff, otherwise you are to be invisible and we will pretend that your kind are unnecessary and don't exist."

I sent a whiny note out into cyber-space and was answered by Roy Bedard- an officer, martial artist and (now that I've met him I can say) a thoroughly gracious man. Also a thug. You gotta love the combination.

He said that the people who made those decisions didn't deal with the stuff. He also said that if they had experienced that night, they'd be talking about it for years but that I would soon forget as other rough nights would intervene. He was mostly right, but I remember the night because of what he said, not because of the huge, angry Samoan.

I've sat around the campfire as friends recount second by second a cave trip we took years ago. It was a powerful, life changing event for them and I have no memory of it whatsoever. Sometimes it's easy to blame concussions, but crawling in a cave or even most fights don't mean enough to hold a place in my memory.

Is that good? There's cool stuff in the memory, but cool stuff gone, too.

It does make conversation hard. With only a few exceptions my eyes glaze over when most officers talk about their 'big fight'. It's hard to talk to civilian martial artists most of the time.

It seems I talk to Sean and Mac the most... but in retrospect we don't talk about the fights. We talk about what we learned. That's good. It's good enough.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Two Cups of Coffee

Thinking today of an unexpected cup in an unexpected place.

In the early nineties I was in the jungle of Ecuador in and near Coca for a medical relief mission to some of the nearby villages. There are some great memories from this short time- death, birth, miscommunication (someone attempting to pantomime "We have just killed an armadillo and would like to sell it to you for food," CAN be interpreted by an over-eager medic as "One of our friends has just falen off a cliff and broken his spine and we need your help.")

It wasn't a long mission, but our CO had made the odd and brain-dead decision to forbid all personnel from eating off the local economy. If we caught/picked and cleaned it ourselves, fine. But we were forbidden to buy food from the local vendors. That meant MREs and T-Rats. MREs are good, even the old ones but T-Rats.... "Whats yellowish green, greasy, spongy and smells like rotten spam?" "Don't know. It could be the eggs, the eggs and ham or the other thing. Check the label." Worse, other than the little packets of instant in the MREs, there was no coffee.

Get that- we're in Ecuador on the border of Columbia. When we go into the highlands we can smell the coffee blossoms... and we can't get anything other than shitty, iodine flavored instant coffee.

Several days in, after a long day of loading, packing, humping (in the military sense, not the civilian) and treating patients we were unloading gear back at the Ecuadorean Army barracks ("Ejercito del Selva!") when I saw a staff sergeant pull out a thermos and pass it around. I'm quiet, shy and reserved and don't ask for much, but I asked for a cup of coffee. He looked reluctant but said "Sure," and poured some in. It had cream in it, but I was desparate. Took a sip... coffee and irish cream. Alcoholic, caffeinated and ambrosial. I have no idea how he made the coffee, smuggled the Irish Cream in or kept it for that long without drinking it up, but that regs violation did more for morale in that minute than anything else could have.


The other coffee story isn't a coffee story. On a graveyard overtime I brought a cup of good coffee to one of the deputies (it's a good habit, learned from that long ago SSgt) and we talked. I was going through some rough times, a cumulative mass of big events that wasn't settling like it should. He was going through rougher times. We sat for hours, talking, surrounded by sleeping inmates. It was honest talk about loss and change and toying with the idea of suicide. Finally, he said, "Sarge, no one commits suicide because of what happened to 'em. They commit suicide because they thought about it too much."

So... we cut down on the thinking about stuff. We've both kept moving since then, kept active. There's no depression brawling in the dojo (or in the jail) or chopping wood or hacking blackberries.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Short Incident

"Did he fall or was he punched?" the nurse asked. The inmate was bleeding from two places on his face, lying on the wet tiles of the shower floor. His eyes were wide open but he couldn't speak, couldn't move.

I held his head with a gloved hand, stabilizing in case his spine was injured. "Assault," I said, "If he'd fallen and hit the cut would have been on the outside of the orbital ridge. This is on the inside. He was hit."

I caught myself, "Is it terrible that I know that?" I asked.

Later, when the nurse was using super glue (it has another name when a doctor uses it but it's the same stuff) to seal the laceration, the now half-conscious kid asked if it would scar. The nurse said just a little.

"No one will notice it," I said. There was a flash in my memory of a ring on a big fist that matches to a scar in my left eyebrow. "No one notices mine."

Interviews, investigations. The injuries at first seemed serious enough to warrant felony charges. A dorm of 65 inmates with one beaten unconscious and, of course, no one saw a thing. In ten minutes we had the assaulter identified and removed, but it took me another half hour to be absolutely sure it was the right man...

When the injuries proved less serious, it became a misdemeanor, something I could not charge. The victim declined to press charges, balancing his anger, humiliation and desire for revenge against the probability (the near certainty) that he will be in custody again and word will spread that he was a "rat". Societies are self-enforcing in many ways.

So there will be no new charges and it will be handled within the institution with segregation and the loss of priveleges.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Many Leveled Day

So much happened today, may small things with deep resonance- an experiment, a phone call, an attempted good deed.

Friday classes with the Friday student. I've been caught up lately in the kata I've described before, feeling that here is a student who can take that path at that intensity, listening and reading her dealing with the concept... it occured to me today that I was retracing steps on a path. Because the two-man kata were the things that gave certain gifts, the only things in my experience, I'd just accepted that they were the only way. A blind spot, an assumption... so today we started on a new way. It may work. It may work without the risk of catastrophic injury. At the close of class, she mentioned that she did not write enough in her notebook because so few of the concepts were in words, most were in feelings. So I put them in words for her and I was amazed at how much was covered in such a short time, because I remember and know it as a feeling, too.

Contraband in the jail is a big deal or a small issue, depending on the contraband and the circumstances. An officer and I spent the better part of an hour trying not to send someone to the hole for contraband. A delicate balance of what needed to happen (contraband removed) and what needed to not happen (the person getting a reputation as a snitch) and what would be nice to happen (the kid not losing any good time; us avoiding paperwork at the end of shift). The inmate, the kid, was very conscious of what he had to lose in terms of extra days in custody as well as the respect of his inmate peers... he played the line, doing what he felt he had to do, honorable by his own standards. It didn't work out perfectly, choices rarely do. But people learned a lot about each other.

A phone call from a friend is such a little thing. I finished the first draft of the book and sent it to a handful of carefully selected readers for the big critique. Kris called, "Yeah, I got it. I happened to be on the phone with my publisher and he wants to look at it. You mind?" I can stand alone in a cell with a three-hundred pound violent criminal and literally yawn when he starts talking trash... but one little sentance sent a trickle of adrenaline down my spine. A part of me is whispering, "The books not good enough yet. I'M not good enough." The same voice that whispers to everyone who writes and doesn't send it to a publisher, who trains and doesn't compete, who dreams and doesn't act. The voice is still there after the years and the scars and the....everything.

I've written four lines of poetry in my life that I thought were good and true:

The Dream is damned
And Dreamer too
If Dreaming's all
That Dreamer's do

Don't just dream.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Where Did You Learn This?"

Yesterday was a very, very good day. In case you haven't figured it out, that means that today I am tired and sore and scraped or bruised. Good days involve a little sweat and blood.

My wife asked me to take down some trees for a friend, a pair of 30+ foot tall cherry trees that were diseased and uncomfortably close to a gazebo, play structure, shed and flower beds. Over forty years old and a cool day involves climbing trees, complicated rope work and a chainsaw!

The ropes were to control the fall of each big branch and piece of trunk. Imagine standing with one foot balanced on a 3 inch wide piece of trunk, the other foot on a stub of a branch as you ply a chain saw at neck level on a section of tree, ropes set carefully so when it starts to go it will fall away from you (and hopefully not snap-back) all 20 feet in the air! Yes!

Ris, our friend asked, "Where did you learn this?"

I froze for a second and said that my dad used to make me do it, since I was the climber. But that's not quite right- my dad though I was too small and clumsy to use a chain saw (with some justification- at the start of my senior year I weighed less than a hundred pounds).

I watched him and heard his stories. Like most men in Eastern Oregon, he was an expert with a chainsaw. I've climbed since I could walk, earlier if you believe my parents. The rope work comes from caving, partially...

In the end, a few decades and lots of mileage leaves some skills and partial skills and concepts. If you aren't afraid to try. Just remember to think it through.

The World

My dad was a Korean-era vet. He told me that people could be seen as sheep, wolves or sheepdogs. (You'll find the same analogy in Grossman's "On Killing" from another vet of the same era). To sum up the analogy, most people are generally kind and productive, but they need leaders and will rarely do anything beyond pleasure-seeking/pain-avoidance without some kind of force acting on them.

Wolves prey on the sheep.

Sheepdog protect sheep.

Sheepdogs are very much like wolves, except for the compulsion to protect. A Sheepdog has more in common with a wolf than it will ever have with a sheep. And they make sheep nervous.

We were on a search for a missing trail runner. I tried to encourage the younger members of the team: "It hasn't been that cold and it's only been two days. If the guy had the most basic survival gear or any common sense, we'll find him alive."
These 14-18 year old kids had more search experience than me. They gave me pitying looks and one said, "Sarge, if he had any common sense he wouldn't have tried to go cross-country at twilight. We don't search for the smart ones."

Later, one of the searchers confided that he wanted to quit, "I've been looking at all the people we've saved in the last two years and I don't want any of them breeding. I don't think saving stupid people is good for society." Harsh.


The sheepdogs have done a good job. Despite the media, this is the safest world for sheep that has ever been. It isn't perfect in any way, but it is safer, better fed, healthier and more comfortable than any time or place in history. When I hear someone spout some braindead 'insight' into violence or criminal behavior it makes me happy, in a way, that they are safe to hold those beliefs and very unlikely ever to face the truth. That could only happen in a world where the dogs have done well.

At the same time, the sheep control the world and move it ever closer to the perfect sheep world, a world of flat grassland and easy water and comfortable temperature. A world of long healthy life and no surprises.

I am ambivalent, because I know that the world I would love, the world that would make me feel most alive and necessary would be dangerous and uncomfortable for most of the people that I love.

Dogs aren't happy in the sheep world, but they work very hard to create and maintain it.

That's the essence of the sheepdog: he would give his life in a heartbeat to defend a world he feels only contempt for. And he would be honored to do it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Yesterday was a good day. I'm sore and stretched with rug burns on my elbows and a couple of separted ribs. Spent about an hour with Jordan, the first part introducing him to the sword, the second rolling hard at grappling and infighting. Jordan's big, strong and experienced. He has some skill, too. He makes me work and I was sweating by the end. It's a good feeling.

Drew dropped by class. He won't be at jujutsu for some time. FEMA has activated him to help with the Katrina aftermath. He's a good choice for it. It's a good opportunity for him.

Received an e-mail from a friend who has come to understand a piece of my mind, a piece I might be able to share.

Invited to give an interview on a web-based 'radio'.

Lastly, broke through that writing problem and will be able to finish the first draft...

What made it a great day? The dimensions. In the same day there was my touchstone, brawling. Of all the things in the world it is the one I do with the most animal happiness. I watched the next generation take the next step. Made a connection with a friend and was invited to share with strangers. Present, future and past, all growing.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Price

In the early eighties a guest lecturer for a criminology class gave insight and advice: "Life boils down to two questions," he said, "What do you want? And what are you willing to pay- in time, sweat, dedication and money to get it?"

Sometimes the price is high. If you are not willing to pay, perhaps you don't want it enough. That's simple maturity. A child wants to acheive the same goal at a lesser price. Often in life the value is in the price.

The two-man kata of traditional Japanese jujutsu were a very sophisticated training method. You were teaching young bushi to kill an armed and armored warrior quickly. Training armor wouldn't help, since you were training to defeat real armor. If you altered the technique for safety, the alteration would become a habit and the warrior would pull his punches under stress. Their solution was for uke to attack with full power, speed and commitment. Tori countered, also, with full power, speed and commitment and then uke would do the one specific thing that would be counter-intuitive on the battlefield but would save him in kata. In Tori ire, uke drops his sword to prevent falling on the tsuba with full body weight focused over his floating ribs. In Kawashime, uke goes limp to prevent his spine from shearing. In Munadori, uke must jump with toe flexion or his collarbone is shattered. Etcetera.

Kata can be done many ways. Most learn the forms and learn them well enough to teach and move on. They become stale, stylistic rituals.

But there is more here. Not from all instructors and not for all students, but there is much more. When Bo and I were training kata to prepare for our cerification, it was very intense. It started with the moves and then speeding it up. Then sensei insisted we add true commitment. When we were uke, we struck at each other (with boken to the head) full force, full power. The only thing in uke's mind was "to cut". If I hand someone a boken and tell them to hit me in the head as hard as they can, very, very few will even be able to do it in a half-hearted way. Most that do swing, when I look in their eyes, will freeze at the last minute, sometimes even pulling muscles to stop from hitting.

From that point on, Bo and I were trusting each other to strike to kill, for real, every time.

Then sensei insisted we "wait in stillness" before moving (to be fair, we'd always done this, but with the introduction of killing intent there was a new level and new consequences). This changed the drill. If uke sensed any movement from tori, uke altered the attack. In other words, uke would strike at the head and if tori moved too soon uke would drop the strike and slam you in the ribs. Tori learned to wait and then explode.

Tachypsychia is the term for the sensation that everything is going in slow motion. It sometimes happens under extreme stress. This is the only training I've ever undergone or even heard of that taught you to consciously access this state.

The last stage was to apply this without the safety of kata. In other words, we would assume position and uke could attack in any way that he chose. Freeform kata, if you will. We found that the responses were rarely out of kata, but highlighted the principles.

What did we get from this? Some criminal screaming that he's going to kill me just isn't intimidating any more. There is more time in a second than I need. I can be still and I can explode. I learned to deal with what is there and not what I expected.

What did it cost? It was dangerous. One of my uke's tried to do an intuitive breakfall and his collarbone was in three pieces. I sprained my neck several times going limp a fraction of a second late. I still remember that second of slow motion time when I realized that Bo was about to land on his bent neck with full force and me yanking to get his body over in the last six inches of falling space... spraining his neck badly but not killing him.

And there was a cool-down period. For much of the last part of this training I couldn't spar. I was on a hair-trigger and couldn't even think of a non-lethal response to anything. It took a while to wear off, because even in a maximum security jail that level of preparation is frowned upon by society.

There's always a price.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What to do...

I'm getting fat and lazy. It appears to be a side-effect of a life going too well.

I love, like and respect my family. My wife of fifteen years still makes romance an adventure and a mystery. If I did not love her I would genuinely and sincerely like her. I've loved my children as babies, toddlers and kids. Now, as a young man and a young woman I am proud and impressed with their budding strength, intelligence and courage. They will be fantastic adults.
The cluttered house is beautiful and full of books, looking south over a sweep of gorge and valley and mountain. The land requires work and improves every time I choose to sweat.

Work is good, though often boring. I don't get challenged by inmates anymore; bad things tend to stop when I show up... but I still get to talk to schizophrenics and stabilize suicidals and mediate disputes and occassionally use the voice that makes violent grown men be quiet.

I don't spend enough time with my friends, but they are special: intelligent, caring, devoted, talented. Adventurers, protectors, hunters, healers and shamans.

Martial arts is where I feel the dissatisfaction most. When I started I thought it would be an infinite learning curve and it could be... except that I decided to focus on practicality and test it in reality. Learning moves to know them no longer appeals. Playfighting is fun but not important. It is rare to learn something new that works. Most instructors, when they talk about violence, are trying to describe an animal they have never seen.

I've never needed much. Anything beyond a daily meal and a relatively warm place to sleep was an extra. My life is all extras now- love, prosperity and even some acclaim.

So when life is going this well, when you have acheived more than you thought you do you keep living? Why?

So what now? Make up some imaginary goal just to keep going? Wrap my life around obligation and duty? (Ooops. Doing that now). Fade away? Rest for a year or two and see what looks interesting?

This is my mid-life crisis, I suppose. When everyone else is looking back from 40 saying how little they've achieved I'm the one saying, "I did all that? Christ, I need a break!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bullshit versus Bullshit

Been watching "Penn and Teller's Bullshit" on DVD. These guys are smart, incisive and brutally critical. Some of their arguments are weak and some of the shows are gratuitous, but I've been having a grand time with them.

Watched the episode on self-help last night. They featured a group of people using things that I recognized as old martial arts parlor tricks (fire walking, walking on broken glass, breaking arrows with your throat and bending rebar with your throat) as a self-empowerment course. To Penn (who does all the talking), it was "BULLSHIT".

He was right, in a way. The people walking on coals are not doing what they think they are doing. Simple physics allows them to do something that looks dangerous and potentially lethal. They think they are using the power of their minds to prevent injury... and they're close. They are using the power of their minds to overcome fear.

For many people, the moment that they do something they thought was impossible there is a huge elation, a rush of confidence. This can and has spilled over into the rest of their lives. Penn is very rational and very confident. I won't demean that by saying he was born that way. In all likelihood he worked very hard to understand the world around him and gain control of any aspect he could which has resulted in great success for him. In a way, though, I think he has forgotten that most people have many limiting fears.

And the fears are bullshit. The subjects of this self-empowerment course wanted more- better jobs, richer lives, freedom from insecurity.... blah, blah, blah. We all know the list. Each of these fears and limitations are self-generated and self-perpetuated. There is no law saying you were born on the South side of town so you must be poor all your life. The Director of Personnel doesn't even know that your father was an alcoholic so that can't stop you from getting the promotion...But the subjects believe the limitations are real.

So these courses, these tests, allow the subject to defeat one imaginary problem that is also a very real fear. This one victory may allow them to challenge another imaginary problem and another and another... It is fighting bullshit with bullshit.

The final goal, the one Penn and I would both be happier with, is for the people to recognize the problems are imaginary and let them go. It can happen in time. You can outgrow rituals.

Used to be once a year, the group would get together for the "Drowning of Sorrows". We would name one event from last year that we didn't want to drag into the next. We would name it and drink a cup of sake in memory because it was OVER. The ritual continued until we were out of stuff to forget. Somewhere along the line I quit going to the party because I very, very rarely hung on to anything anymore. The problems were all imaginary.

The ritual was Bullshit and it handily helped us deal with problems that, also, were Bullshit. Then you get over it.

You Don't Need MY Permission

Most people are not okay with success. Nearly all people have this idea of value and self-worth and are uncomfortable and afraid to reach beyond it. We all know a wonderful writer who rarely or never sends manuscripts to an editor. We know brilliant, grounded people who stay in dead-end jobs that they hate because it is "good enough".

What if it isn't good enough? How many of you have friends who tell you constantly that you can "do better"... in work, in relationships, in every or any aspect of your life. Are they wrong? Do you surround yourself with stupid friends? If your friends are smart, they're right.

So what's stopping you? You.

Rick is one of my super-amazing friends. Most of my friends are amazing on some level. When it borders on the supernatural, as it does with Rick, it's super-amazing. He has an uncanny ability to go into a situation: boardroom, biker bar, red-neck watering hole, formal dinner party, blue collar job site and within minutes become everyones close friend. I've watched him walk into a military surplus store, strike up a random conversation and in less than five minutes be offered free and unlimited access to a professional machining shop.

If you read personal accounts of Bill Clinton, this same ability is mentioned. This ability, combined with Clinton's ambition and ruthlessness, propelled him to the White House. Why not Rick?

Okay, Rick's not stupid and doesn't want that kind of life... but he thinks he has the kind of life that he deserves. We all do. We are comfortable middle class, content and happy to be one notch more prosperous than our parents... and every last one of us could be more of we decided to.

It doesn't have to be money, fame and power. I see it in martial arts students. Some get so locked into a world view where their sensei or 'master' is unbelievably amazing that they will never give themselves permission to be even better. Why not? Shouldn't a good instructor in the end make you better than he was? But no matter how good the teacher, the student has to let themselves grow and amaze.

What do you love doing? Do you give yourself permission to be the best? Do you give yourself permission to put it out for others to see and judge and permission to not be the best right away and use the failures to get better?

Life isn't hard. Really stupid people do it all the time. Smart people should do it better, but they have to let themselves.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


This is something I wrote awhile ago, but it leads into something I want to write about later. Consider it a preface:

I've been giving my students permission a lot lately... Sometimes I ask, "Why didn't you...?" reach for a weapon, use a preemptive strike, run, call for help...

And the students says, "I didn't know I could." For the longest time, I assumed that meant the student had never considered it or didn't know how... it didn't occur to me that they thought it might be forbidden.

These are things that should never need to be said but still must, because there is power in the words.

You have permission to defend yourself.

You have permission to be rude.

You have permission to survive, no matter what it takes.

You have permission to act when the scary man reaches for his belt. You do not need to wait until he draws the weapon or until he points it at you or until he hurts you.

You have permission to act.

You have permission to beat me, even if I wear a blackbelt.

You have permission to become better than the best instructor you ever had.

You have permission to invent something better than I ever taught you, and permission to use it in my class and permission to use it to defeat me and permission to teach it to your students.

You have blanket permission to grow and live and survive and fight and run and scream and talk and play and learn and experiment.

You have permission to win, and you have permission to decide what winning is.


The Real Deal

You meet a lot of 'masters' and 'grandmasters' and other bullshit if you stick around martial arts long enough. Most of them are about 10% skill and 90% ego. A few are really charismatic and have amassed a set of parlor tricks and a couterie of syncophants who obligingly fall on command... some are so deep into the games that they have come to believe in them.

I'm not writing about them. Not today. I want to write about two of the old dragons.

If you are deeply into the martial arts, you know of Jon Bluming. During the time when Donn Draeger was making the first deep western inroads into understanding the Japanes martial traditions, Bluming was his roommate. The Japanese called Bluming "The Beast of Amsterdam" and he was probably the primary reason that non-Japanese were not allowed to compete in Japanese judo tournaments for some time.

I met Bluming sensei in Seattle. His seminar was to be the first time on the mat for me since my knee surgery and it was the day after I'd shot someone. There was a lot in my head and I felt very much the 'realist' in a group of 'artists'.

Bluming is a rude, crude, fearless, outspoken old bastard. He is a bundle of scars and broken bones held together with tape and wraps for horse legs. He's tough and funny and hard and serious... and going on the mat for him is like going home, the one place where everything makes sense.

He was describing his favorite strike, the shotei and said, "I don't punch with my fist anymore because when you hit some guy with your fist and you fracture his skull and tear his ear off and you're waiting in a cold-assed jail cell for hours to find out if he's going to die and what the police are going to charge you with, well, you really wish you'd just hit him with the shotei, which just does the internal damage." At that moment I knew I could learn from him.

He rolled with everyone who wanted and he tapped most of them, this 70+ year old Korean war veteran. His doctor told him to stay out of training, but he couldn't. Keeping him off the mat would be like keeping a fish out of water. A big fish. A big, smart, old, mean fish.

The other one is a sweet, soft-spoken old man who has made a science of pain. Wally Jay founder of Small Circle jujitsu was never a national champion in his youth, but he had the mind to train champions and he did. He worked out principles of physics and efficiency and he centered his personal style around fingerlocks. My god it hurts!

He originally taught Small Circle as something you could add into any art and make it better. My own style is woefully lacking in restraint techniques and SCJJ filled the gap nicely. It is the best thing I've ever found for getting cuffs on a threat... it has grown since then with additions from Wing Tsun and others, moving to a more complete art.

At seventy years+, each of these men will roll with you. They don't need any big spiel or psychological set-up to make their stuff work. Their students are not chosen by how suggestible they are and they have no use for syncophants or yes-men. They want people with heart.

"Pain makes believers"- Wally Jay

"For me it is OK for I am very very busy all those basterds want to have a
seminar now that I am 70 years old ."- Jon Bluming (from an e-mail)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Matrix, Violence and an Invitation

I use a matrix concept in the martial arts. Basically there are many, many kinds of conflict- war to dominance games to sudden assault to surviving sudden assault to restraining criminals or mental patients without harm... When you stretch it beyond violence to MA you can add fitness, sport and 'personal growth'. These are the elements at the top of the matrix.

Each is composed of separate elements that can be widely varied: how much time to prepare? What is the goal? Who is the likely opponent? What is the optimum mindset? What are your resources? These things, ad infinitum, make up the other axis of the matrix.

I teach, maybe preach(?) that it is imperative to understand the difference and when you are training for one you are not training for the others. When a civilian leaves a conflict, it's good self-defense. When a soldier leaves, it's desertion. When a bigger, tougher opponenent slams you to the ground and starts to strangle you and you shoot him, that's self-defense... unless it's in sparring, in which case it is murder.

These things simply aren't the same and don't require the same mindset or tactics... and yet almost every martial artist I know feels that their art covers the whole matrix.

Yesterday, I googled myself and found one of my articles being discussed on a martial arts website that I had never heard of. I was aware of their style, one of my friends studies under their head instructor and speaks very highly of him. It seemed like a good group: intelligent, friendly and incisive. They were asking each other about points that needed clarification so I decided to drop in and explain.

The article was about predator assaults- ambushes. Most people have never experienced one and their guesses and intuition on the subject tend to be farther off than they are willing to believe. The people on the board remained nice, but it reminded me of herd animals clustering together. They were very careful to compare my writing with their doctrine and to point out that it was mostly in line with their teaching, if only dealing with the 'lower aspects'. What struck me most is that again and again they tried to point out limitations and flaws in any training that wasn't theirs and completely denied that my biggest filter was experience.

I was invited to train with the local group. I'll show up, though if I wanted to train this system I'd train with Scott who already has both recognition from their instructor and my deepest respect. But they do seem serious and sincere and intelligent people who like to brawl are my favorite.

However the invitation included the line"Bring an open mind because while many things about XXXXXX will be familiar, there's enough difference that you won't notice if you see it only through your previous MA filters"

Big red flag. And they don't realize that previous martial arts aren't my filter- experience is.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Looking for the Skeleton

I've been working on a book. It grew out of some lectures and a pamphlet on the difference between martial arts and violence. It is the hardest thing I've ever tried to write. Not because of prose or subject matter or dedication or research or knowledge. It's because violence is still a natural history, not a science.

Once upon a time, 'natural history' was a collection of facts and observations and specimens. It was a body of literature gathered by amateurs and professionals all over the world. Then Darwin came along and found the underlying theme to all life and biology was born as a science.

At one time there was a loose collection of facts, processes and experiments with various far-fetched but detailed theories on what each thing meant... then Dalton postulated the atomic theory and philosophy of alchemy became the science of chemistry.

This manuscript deals with what I have learned about violence and it is a collection of observations, a few theories of small parts, systems that have worked for me and my students. It is very, very hard to format.

Normally I'm good at finding underlying patterns and connections. Finding the key that makes entire classes of technique work. Tying everything together so it is easy to learn and remember and extrapolate from... not with this. I see big pieces, such as the effects of adrenaline, where control must be learned as a technique, but it affects perception and affects both threat and victim but in different ways as well as men and women and professionals and everyone else. It is also a big piece of the aftermath and that is different for single events versus sustained exposure...

And I see small pieces that affect these big pieces and may, if I come to understand them, be bigger than I ever realized. Breathing. The touch of a palm on your face.

Grrrr. So I come up with a framework that works hopefully for the reader and with luck, stuff won't fall between the cracks. My attempt to organize the soul of chaos.

We'll see.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


Rapelling into a cavern of unknown depth, reaching the end of the rope and tieing another on, continuing the rapell until my head lamp fades out and for a moment, I'm spinning in sheer darkness...

A judo tournament my freshman year- my opponent out ranks me by four belts and broke Kelly's arm less than an hour ago and he has me in the same hold. Everyone is yelling for me to tap- my teammates, my coach and even my girlfriend. One second of feeling completely alone and I twist my elbow off the breaking point and get to my feet. I can see in his eyes that he is shaken and he taps out to a weak choke a few seconds later. Lesson learned: when you go all the way, you will be alone.

Taking a defunct raft down the side of Mount Hood and getting air and slamming into the ground and seeing flashes of color: blue-white-blue-white.... Thinking, "This is the weirdest concussion I've ever had." Then I realized it was the snow and the sky and I was spinning!

Concussion- learning naginata at the SCA and my coach/partner faked me beautifully and caught me under the helmet. Everything is in slow motion as I see the helmet spin through the air and I'm thinking, "Boy, I hope my head's not still in there." The unbelievable relief and happiness when the helmet bounces off the wall and rolls to my feet and there isn't a head inside.

Taking my son out in the rain in the first seconds after his twenty-three hour ordeal of birth.

My wife after the same labor- a soft rattle wakes me up and she is standing, moving her IV over to get water or something. "What are you doing? Get back to bed!" She looked at me and said, "You looked so tired I didn't want to wake you."

Drinking Chichu with Bobby, a reformed cannibal in Ecuador.

Night time sling load operation- I'm on the top of a humvee holding up a probe so that the static charge created by the copters spinning props doesn't shock anyone bad as a squad of copters come in low over the trees lit only by moonlight. Hold the probe steady as the pilot tries to hold the copter steady while my partner hooks the clips on the sling. It is gale-force winds from the blades and an enormous mass of steel held from crushing me only by the skill of the pilot and load master... and then it is done and I watch the tank-killing vehicle fly into the night dangling from the helicopter.

Hanging out the doors of a helicopter as the pilot flies knap-of-the-earth. He's practicing flying and I'm practicing gunning... the disconcerting feel that the earth has risen to vertical because there is almost no sensation that we are flying on our side.

Really wild sex in a tropical rainstorm on top of a Mayan watch tower.

Walking away from a violent, developementally disabled, schizophrenic and bipolar arrestee who always fights but has just promised that he would be quiet and behave and even went so far as to give me some friendly advice (he suggested a good counselor, he thought I could use one) when another experienced officer walks over and whispers, "How the hell do you do that, Sarge?" The force has great power over weak minds....

Playing bad guy, I'm literally standing on one foot, balanced on a speaker above the door when the tactical team enters. No one looks up. They enter, fan out... and I drop down behind them and just leave. They all look up now.

In a hanging valley on Snoqualmie pass, camping. Early in the morning the little jays are begging for food and we get the Francis of Assissi pictures with wild birds eating out of our hands... within an hour we're trying to drive the little buggers off so we can eat in peace.

Another year in the same camp site with good friends, good scotch and the Aurora Borealis lighting the sky.

Playing bad guy again, I was a bit unprofessional. Their team leader had ignored my critique, so I decided to role-play me instead of a random criminal for their second run through the scenario. Now the four-man cell is standing there, each with a smear of paint from a sim bullet or two on the helmet and two in the chest and one or two at the hips. I've been hit once in the arm and twice in the leg out of 40 bullets down range.. and all the hits were after I was out of ammo.

My family shows up at a DT instructor's meeting to take me to lunch. We're boxing. "Anybody want to box?" I ask and without hesitation my eleven-year old daughter says, "Sure!" and grabs some gloves.

It's a good life, and a life is nothing but moments and stories. I hope all of you reading this are living the stories you dream.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Honor and Warriors

The Budoshoshinshu says that the three qualities a warrior must possess are integrity, loyalty and courage.

My interpretation: Integrity, because if a man's beliefs, words and actions contradict, if he says one thing and does another, he is at best worthless and at worst, evil. Simply, integrity limits your value as a human being. You can only be as good, as human or as honorable as you are true.

Loyalty, because there must be something more important to you than your own life. If you are the most important thing in your life, you will harm others to further your self-interest. A skilled warrior who serves only himself causes harm to many and must be put down like a rabid dog.

Courage, because it is the job of a warrior to walk into the places where no one else wishes to go and make them better.

All human beings need the elements of Integrity and Loyalty to be worthwhile, but only the warrior requires courage, and only the warrior is defined as facing danger.

A note on this- Warrior is a loaded word and people jump on it as a crutch for their self image. I use it here because the translation I use used the word. It is nothing noble or heroic or special- it is a small group of people who have chosen to face conflict as a job. If someone defines or seeks to define themselves as a 'warrior' they need to get over themselves.

Honor, then, is acting in accordance with the three virtues. Any act of honor will have all three of these elements- it will be true (this does not eliminate the ruse de guerre), it will be done for the betterment of someone or something other than the person who acts and it will be risky.

'Face' is reputation. When a person acts because it must, by his moral code, be done, he acts from honor. When he acts from fear of what people will think of him, he acts to save or increase face.

Fighting fair- consideration of honor in conflict come in before the conflict. The question of honor is decided in what I will fight for. Once conflict begins, the goal is to subdue or destroy. When the need rises to the level and there are no other options (or at least no time to find them) and that goal is set, either to subdue or destroy, the battle is on.

Two quotes to think about:

"No matter whether a person belongs to the upper ranks or the lower, if he has not put his life on the line at least once he has cause for shame." -Nabeshima Naoshige

"The foundation of a man's duty as a man is in truth. Beyond this there is nothing to be said." --Torii Mototada

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Professionals and Amateurs

There are degrees of professionalism. My colleagues and I are paid, and paid well, primarily to deal with violent and dangerous people. The rest of the job could be done better by a decent secretary- but to deal with violence, to judiciously control it or avoid it or prevail as appropriate is a skill and an art.

Not all professionals are the same. We all get paid to deal with violence and all that that means- the injuries, sure, but also the mental after-effects, the social effects and the possibility of infection- but the majority really don't. If we know or suspect that a situation is about to go bad, we call for a handful of select individuals. These are people that maintain their cool and have a reputation: the common reputation is that most of the time the fight doesn't happen, when it does it is over very quickly with minimal injury. I'm one of those people for my agency.

This has an odd effect in that it really concentrates experience in a handful of people- I've been in a room with a dozen senior deputies with perhaps 150 years of experience between them and less than a hundred "uses of force"... I quit counting mine at 300. As much as there is an acknowledged gap in experience and attitudes between the people on "the Job" and "civilians" there is almost as big a gap between the "average officer" and the "meat eater" within the Job. I've trained in advanced first aid, volunteered with Search and Rescue, acted as a peer counselor and crisis debriefer, trained for hostage negotiation, design courses, research and write and been the point sergeant for the mental health team for the last couple of years and I still get told "You're just a tactical guy." or "The idea of you working at headquarters makes people nervous." Meat eaters make sheep nervous.

Sorry about the vent.

Back to the point- Amateurs in violence (think martial artists) do not have the same idea of a fight as a pro does. The amateur thinks 'winning'. The pro thinks 'going home'. To the amateur it is a contest. To the pro, if it ever becomes a contest it's because he didn't cheat enough or early enough. To the amateur, it is a game and to the pro it is a job. Like any other job you do it as quickly and as lazily and as safely as possible. Could you imagine if a factory worker looked at each car as a challenge with a risk of injury? "Whew! It was tough, but we got the new Camaro out today. I may need to get a cast on my wrist but we won!"

There are levels for Pros, too. That's what I learned today. An inmate pretending to be crazy threatened to attack any officer who came into the interview room he was in. The person in charge of the area, a very, very good sergeant had come up with a plan to be sure we would win the fight. It was a good plan. I ignored it completely because I had no intention of there ever being a fight. (Side effect of being considered a go-to guy for trouble is that people don't get their feelings hurt if you have a better plan). The sergeant who came up with the plan was a pro, but he'd let the threat decide that there was going to be a fight and he went with the threat's basic game plan. To my mind, that was absurd- there's only going to be a fight if I say so and on MY terms. Hence no fight.

Two Busy Days

I woke up very early yesterday to the sound of my daughter screaming, "Dad! There's been an accident! Somebody's hurt!" I bailed out of bed and dressed and ran. A pickup had rear-ended a school bus, my son's school bus, and the driver of the pickup was on the ground, moaning and bleed ing from his nose. The kids on the bus were okay, Kami was on the phone to Dispatch. I attended to the driver: Primary Survey (RABC); Secondary survey (head-to-toe visual and palpation survey with neuro check). LOC good, alerted and oriented x4.... lots of jargon. I haven't done the EMT or 91B Combat Medical NCO thing in a while but it was all there. When fire rescue arrived I maintained spine immobilization, then the ambulance showed and I transferred custody... and went in to the house for coffee.

Followed by a run into work a little more than four hours early to teach a DT (Defensive Tactics) class to some enforcement deputies with visiting Feds- entries, infighting and counter assault with ground fighting elements. Fun and sweaty.

Then regular work- mental health issues, inmates threatening others, nothing memorable, but a classis day in that I don't remember doing much but I never quite had time for lunch and was writing reports up to the last minute.

Today started slower- spending a good deal of time saying goodbye to K before she heads off to a convention in Seattle. Work was insane, literally, for the first 4 hours. An inmate on disciplinary status decided to play the "suicide card". Many think that if they express suicidal thoughts, they will get special priveleges or not be held responsible for misconduct. Instead they are locked down in a room with no furnishings and given a quilted smock and nothing else. This one was claiming to hear voices. He then made the mistake of threatening to kill any officer that came to move him. So they called me. No problem, but by the end of everything it was halfway through my shift and I hadn't even set foot in my assigned sector- which had fuses blown in one dorm, climate control out in another and inmate phones dead in a third. Seven hours into the shift, finally a chance to sit down and eat.

You know what? Those are two good days!