November 29, 2011

Sensei Obvious

Hey Jim. Hope this finds you well. Saw this article, thought I'd pass it on. I think he makes some pretty damn good points. What do you reckon?

Okay, for those who don’t know who in blazes Sam Harris is I can only give my own account: a Harvard professor, with a PhD in neuroscience; a bestselling author of several books, most notably promoting atheism and decrying divine faith – take “The Moral Landscape,” a big advocate of using science to discover morals and values. And now, it seems he’s stepped into the martial realm with some thoughts. His “Truth about Violence” blog treats us to three principles of self-defense:
1. Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places

2. Do not defend your property

3. Respond immediately and escape
In other words, don't do this, don't do that, and then do do what we would normally do anyway.

“Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places”

This is a very good principle. Here’s another very good principle in the same vein off the top of my balding head:

“Don’t rub Crazy Dave’s Inferno Sauce on your butthole. Not even one dab.” *Shaking Head* Just don’t – you will have bad memories.

Harris’ main point here is the following:

The primary goal of self-defense is to avoid becoming the victim of violence. The best way to do this is to not be where violence is likely to occur.

Sage. Here’s more sage stuff:

Patient: “Doctor it hurts when I do this.”
Doctor: “Don’t do that.”

Does it really take a PhD in neuroscience to realize we should ‘avoid dangerous people and places?’ Is this Dr. Harris’ measured conclusion after a series of peer-reviewed studies appeared in the academic journal, “Oh-No-You-Di-n’t!” Who doesn't know this? It’s like when interviewers ask football coaches what their strategy for the day’s game will be: “Well, we figure if we score more points than the other team, we’ll win.” Wow, it's like he's Sun Tzu!

Harris is a decent writer and he’s written an opinionated piece, but “principles of self-defense?” Try observation through experience. Look up the word principle: “a comprehensive and fundamental law.” Even if we take this first maxim to mean, 'Don't behave in a way that invites violence,' does it really alter the way we were behaving before reading his blog? What "principle" is this of self-defense? It seems to me it’s simply good advice, in fact, one I like to think, many if not most decent people are probably raised on.

But let’s take it at face value. Okay. So, then, what if we live in, reside in, a dangerous place? What then? What’s the “principle” now? We should not go home? We should not go out? How does this help us now? We should just move? What if we can’t?

It would be great if by our location and behavior we could all simply avoid the people and places of violence, and if we could, we wouldn’t need self-defense as we know it today. But isn’t it the fact violence can occur anywhere at all – where we work, live, drive, shop, eat, sleep, travel, or piss? No matter how we're behaving? Isn’t that what worries people? We don’t know where or how violence will occur and if we did, I’m pretty sure we would avoid it.

“Don't defend your property”

Right. I get where he’s going with this – your wallet isn’t worth your life; a gun is shoved in your face for your new iPad – go buy a new iPad. Got it. But could there ever be a case in which we are justified in defending property? What if that property is life-protecting or life-sustaining? The real question is, is there any property worth dying for?

You are carrying a cure for cancer in your backpack and you’re mugged. The loss of this prototype cure means the deaths of thousands, maybe more. Maybe even people you love. Would that be worth fighting/dying for? Harris uses the example of not defending your vehicle from vandals - just call the police. Sounds reasonable. Unless, your wife is pregnant, due any moment, and you need the car to drive her to the hospital.

And we don’t need to make up hypotheticals. Folks trapped in their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana waited upwards of a week until they saw their first policeman and in the meantime had to contend with roving bands of armed looters, looking to steal food, water, and guns. It happened in Haiti too after the earthquake.

Take the riots in London or America – some shop owners turned out to defend their small businesses from fiery ruin. If your business is how you feed your family, and without it means going hungry and destitute, guess what? You show up with a cricket bat. Or a shotgun. And some did. (Sales of baseball bats in England on rose 5000% during the riots.) My point is there are cases that could be made for defending property. So, this is not some immutable principle of self-defense. It’s Harris’ advice.

“Respond immediately and escape”

Harris writes:

“This is the core principle of self-defense: Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape — not to mete out justice, or to teach a bully a lesson, or to apprehend a criminal. Your goal is to get away with minimum trauma (to you), while harming your attacker in any way that seems necessary to ensure your escape.”

I love this - “attack explosively.” Awesome. Here’s another:

“You have no alternative but to explode into action, whatever the risk. Recognizing when this line has been crossed, and committing to escape at any cost, is more important than mastering physical techniques.” (Emphasis original)

“Explode into action.” Brilliant. I can’t wait to teach my Mom to explode.

“(Martial arts sparring) doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.”

“Strike preemptively without telegraphing your moves.” I am a lifelong martial artist who’s trained for more than 30 years on my “moves.” I teach and train three times a week consistently – sometimes four when doing five-hour seminars once a month - and I have trouble doing all of this. Who does Harris think he’s writing to? Batman? Honestly, this is all just silly.

Look, the gut response of anyone whose life is threatened by another person is to escape. This is normal. Natural. Everyone tries to get away. Everyone. Escape is the first immediate response, not exploding into action. Thor explodes into action – he’s the God of Thunder and has a big hammer.

It’s when we can’t get away things get complicated. We’ve heard of ‘fight or flight?’ Well, when “flight” is not an option, “fight” is not necessarily first on everyone’s to-do list. Does this mean no one will fight back? Of course not, some will with or without training. My point is even if attacking your attacker is an option, the majority of people will not do it.

This is the mistake Harris and probably many of those who read his blog and thought it reasonable are all making – they are taking for granted they will fight back. Because fighting back seems reasonable and is easy to assume from behind a computer screen reading a self-defense blog from your favorite atheist; if Sam Harris says I can do it, then I must be able to, right? However, this spits in the face of horrifying reality when rough, violent people are commanding you do something you would never do.

When safety and life are threatened by other humans and escape is not possible, some people “posture,” or put up a good front, trying to talk their way out. But most people will “submit” and just give in and give up - if there’s a “truth about violence,” this is it. Survivors of school and mass shootings who “played dead” later recalled to interviewers they just gave up and “waited to die.”

They couldn’t flee, they didn’t counterattack, they didn’t posture, they submitted. This is the actual baseline response, the predictable human behavior of most people to life-threatening danger from another human - they don’t want to get hurt, they don’t want to die, they will give up. This is what the overwhelming majority of people will do. It is to be expected.

Jeff Cooper, a Marine in World War II and Korea, and responsible for what is known as the modern technique of defensive shooting, wrote this:

“Any man who is a man may not, in honor, submit to threats of violence. But many men who are not cowards are simply unprepared for the fact of human savagery. They have not thought about it … and they just don’t know what to do. When they look right into the face of depravity or violence they are astonished and confounded.”

If we wish to counteract this confounding response of our very nature, the bottom line for the majority of humanity that is not born with a Chuck Norris beard and fists named “law” and “order” is we need to train – and train consistently - to learn a new and different behavior. No one just puts a checkmark in the box next to, “elbow to the solar plexus, kick to the groin” – hell, even Jeff and Chuck got trained. But to expect that the average person, the regular person, is capable of doing so is not simply misguided, it’s dangerous because it perpetuates a myth (one would think Harris would be on board with this, right?).

This myth of ‘fighting back’ is not isolated to those under direct threat. Check out David Brooks’ piece, “Let’s All Feel Superior” in the New York Times where he mentions “Normalcy Bias,” “Motivated Blindness,” and “Bystander Effect” as explanations as to why a Penn State graduate student didn’t knock the shit out of Coach Jerry Sandusky and then call a SWAT team to join in the beating when he walked in on him raping a ten-year old in the shower. The fact is even folks witness to violence, in a crowd or individually, have an extraordinary apprehension to helping others at the receiving end – no calling 911, no aid provided, and certainly no laying hands on perpetrators.

If we'd like a preview of our own gut reaction, we should do ourselves a favor - jump on You Tube or simply google "fight" and watch a dozen videos of actual, brutal confrontations. These are just the kind of people we are concerned about defending ourselves from - still feel like "exploding into action?" Now, place ourselves in the opposite perspective - would we help any of these people? Call Police? Stop a victim's bleeding? Jump into the fray? If not, congratulations you are "normal." But if you are someone who usually goes to the aid of others, then chances are you will come to your own aid. In fact, I think aiding others is great training to help yourself.

Now, bear in mind I’m not saying this baseline behavior is right, moral, or ethical, I’m saying it is to be expected. And if we wish to change our expected behavior, our “normal” response, then we have to train. Period. When high schoolers tackled Kip Kinkle at Thurston High during a murderous shooting spree on May 21, 1998, they may or may not have had previous martial arts/self-defense training. But they played football – a heavy physical contact sport. In that, they were all “trained.”

Oh, and I love the bit about abandoning our child to the predator with a knife. Does Harris believe he or anyone else would actually do this? I can't believe his ‘moral landscape’ is that bleak.

Now, look, a friend asked me for my thoughts here and I’m not writing this simply to tear down Harris who ostensibly was just trying to help others. And it’s not to say Harris is completely wrong from an anecdotal perspective. If my sister, who has zero martial arts experience - except the shared memories of a mean older brother who tried out techniques on her - told me these three points, I’d be like, “Hey, great sis, glad you know them,” since it would give me some solace she didn’t take her own safety for granted. I think we can all agree that Dr. Harris – who receives death threats for his writings, no less - does not either.

But I want my self-defense advice to be active and actionable, meaning it compels and motivates me to do something new, preferably a something new I am confident I can do. Negative advice – don’t do such and such – is not active and rarely actionable, since it usually is only applicable under “in this case don’t do this” kind of thing.

This post from Harris seems to be what reasonable people might find reasonable about self-defense advice, but that doesn’t mean it is. It seems to me anyone reading it is likely to simply agree, place a check next to the box for each point – yep, I’d do that, yep, I’d do that too – but other than a gooey sense of self-satisfaction that they and Sam Harris are on the same page, I am not certain what they learn to alter and create new and better behavior.

I guess if one were planning that evening to go to a dangerous place, not avoid dangerous people, defend their wallet at all costs, not “explode into action” and escape, and instead fight back like a fat 10-year-old girl, but after reading Sam’s article, stayed in and watched reruns of “Doctor Who,” he’s done his job.

Now, I refuse to be critical without at least offering myself up for criticism. So, here are my three principles of self-defense. They are based on the principles of Taijutsu: position, leverage, initiative. In part two, I’ll detail them:

1. Activate higher levels of awareness by threat assessment of location, lifestyle, and activity
2. Create countermeasures to known/unknown vulnerabilities
3. Consistently train physically to protect others, for one's own resistance and escape

Read Part II: On Self-Defense

October 30, 2011

"Embrace" Taijutsu

Shihan Morganelli,

I came upon your website/blog and wanted to thank you for allowing access to your amazing articles. Your insight has given me another perspective and is quite helpful. I have been given food for thought by one of my shidoshi-ho. He has told me that I need to "fully embrace taijutsu." I am currently training for my blackbelt test. Being highly analytical I understand the words yet strive in searching for the whole meaning and the path I need to achieve this. I agreed with his thoughts wholeheartedly. If you have time I would appreciate any thoughts or insight you may have.

Thanks so much for the email - I appreciate your kind and touching words.

I heartily agree with your Shidoshi-ho, you should fully "embrace" Taijutsu. However, it may be difficult to know exactly what this means. And what is clear, in the Bujinkan, which has wide and varied perspectives, it can mean different things to different people. For me, it means to embrace the unembraceable, make logic of the illogical; to accept the paradox.

The word paradox comes from the Greek word “para” meaning ‘contrary to,’ and “dox,” ‘accepted opinion’ or ‘expectation.’ Any paradox is two statements, both true, that contradict one another. Courage is a prime paradox - a strong desire to live that takes the form of a readiness to die. Paradoxes are not meant to be figured out and logically concluded, they are meant to be accepted, for truth is inherent in the contradiction. Such can be the nature of truth – it’s always stranger than fiction because fiction is made to suit ourselves.

Even nature is a paradox – it is balanced by being naturally unbalanced. Nature exists in many respects by the Golden Ratio (1:1.618), found all throughout nature’s form, from the way a flower grows to the proportions of the human body. From the animals of the African steppe, to the orbit of the Earth, nature is never in equilibrium, but a continued state of balanced imbalance. Yin and Yang, In to Yo, Kyo to Jitsu - all of these concepts represent nature’s "balance," but not its equilibrium. These concepts are never equal to each other, their proportions keep the other in reasonable balance as they fluctuate, expand, and contract.

And who’s to say our own human nature is any different? The human condition seems to be a continual re-balancing of the decisions we make each day between self and others. And as it turns out, ‘others’ take up most of our decision making - perhaps that ratio is ideally the Golden Ratio as well?

Similarly, many aspects of training are paradoxical: Hide in plain sight; change is the only thing that does not change; Mark Hodel used to say our best friends prepare us to deal with our worst enemies, and let’s not forget the eternal Song of the Gokui, "In the world of martial arts, one should not stick to strength or weakness, softness or hardness; rather one should transcend physicality and understand the void, 'ku,' regarding the body also as empty."

Hatsumi sensei in a recent interview with CNN said knowledge is all very well, "It gives us law, and culture and science. But knowledge is not enough. It must be balanced out with Budo, which can never be explained. It can only be understood by doing."

In 1998, I was just about to leave Japan after living there for close to three years. My final class with Nagato sensei was way the hell out in Higashi-Matsuyama, Saitama, an hour on the express train from Ikebukuro. In August, the dojo was an oven (and in winter, a freezer!). The class was a tough one; I was sensei’s Uke the entire time and my partner was particularly hard on me as well. In short order, I was dripping wet, like emerging from a pool, and frustrated with my seeming lack of ability.

After class, I thanked sensei for his teachings and he wished me good luck back home. I asked him, when I get home, what should I concentrate on? He answered in a blink, “Everything.” I must have crinkled my brow - everything? But I don’t know everything. He nodded, “Sure you do. Train everything;” bo, gun, shuriken, fukiya – everything. My hour-long train ride went pretty quick after that with me lost in thought. Of course, he was right. When Taijutsu is trained correctly, to learn one thing is to learn 10,000 things. It took me longer than a flight home to accept that paradox.

Taijutsu offers us at least three important paradoxes that I believe represent the ‘shingitai’ (heart, technique, body) nature of training. It is interesting to me that each of these paradoxes re-enforce one another:

1. Tai, the body or the physical, activates the Kukan (void, empty space) to become a shield.

2. Gi, technique or the mental, knows we must be willing to kill only to protect life.

3. Shin, heart, or the spiritual, is well stated by the words of Uesugi Kenshin who said, "Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live."

What do all three of these paradoxes have in common? Simple, there is a single answer to decipher them. Hatsumi sensei has said we cannot know Taijutsu unless we live as if already dead. What does he mean? The questions we might ask are: Why ought the Kukan become a shield? Why ought we be willing to kill only to protect life? Why ought we embrace death to embrace life?

I have my own thoughts on these questions. I do believe the answer can clarify our morals, activate respect, and sustain our ethic. But the answer is found only when we embrace the unembraceable, make logic of the illogical, and accept paradox.



October 22, 2011


Thanks to all who supported our annual retreat. Already looking forward to next year!


Shidoshi Joe Bunales
Shidoshi Jeff Patchin
Shidoshi Jim Delorto
Lake Beulah

Knife sparring with Kris McKinney
Defending others
Makko ho with Tomoko Morganelli
Morning Makko ho session

September 11, 2011

So, are you good or evil?

A few months back, Jack Hoban was interviewed by a TV crew from the BBC. The links below are the resulting show that speaks about the science of morality and just how important our ethics are.

Check it out:

August 25, 2011

A Sword to Cut Stone

It’s official - Gasshuku will be October 7-9, 2011!

Our 12th annual retreat returns us to Camp Edwards in East Troy, Wisconsin (about 1½ hours north of Chicago) - a little country respite with natural beauty and rustic charm, so we can train, and train, and train some more. Gasshuku is that one weekend a year when we set ourselves to recalibrate, remembering why we train in the first place.

We’ll bed down at Hoffer Lodge this time, enjoy our usual hearty morning breakfasts in the dining hall, and then take kamae on Edwards' rolling meadows.

The Boardwalk at Camp Edwards
Training will follow this year's Bujinkan theme of Kihon Happo and Taijutsu, as well as our own - "Ichi go, Ichi e." We'll also look at integrated skill sets from stealth, stalking, camouflage, climbing, escape and evasion, to weapon sets, like shuriken. In fact, if you’d like to offer a specific skill set, please contact me.

Instructors include myself, and Shidoshis Joe Bunales, Jeff Patchin, and Jim Delorto, all of whom have trained with me for more than 10 years and have extensive experience beyond that.

Training in the Bujinkan is unique and as such, every instructor's take on training is slightly different. Recently I was talking with a long-time practitioner, who was having some trouble moving forward in their training. He was confounded about his Taijutsu and felt he had tried all manner of method to improve it, so he asked my advice. I told him, he had it backwards - sharpening his technique wasn't going to make his Taijutsu better, only re-calibrating his principles would do that.

I make it a point not to view Taijutsu as an amalgam of 'technistic' movements from across a historical and/or 'linealogical' timeline, searching for quantifiable outcomes in non-quantifiable conditions - in essence, thinking specific techniques provide solutions to ever-changing problems.

However, the reason I choose not to train that way is simple - it's not because I think that type of training doesn't work, on the contrary, it can, and plenty of people train that very way, practicing specificity as answer to the unanswerable. The problem is I don't believe we work that way.

Training isn't about how much we know, but how well we know what we know. Techniques in themselves cannot calibrate us, they are only useful once we are calibrated. If we perceive the use of Taijutsu as merely means to an end, then it stands to reason that the end inexorably justifies those means, granting us license to dish out whatever hot, steaming bowls of creamy "justice" we think apply, without realizing we do so from the darkest of places, where "right" is simply our version, made up, imagined, based solely on our own personal beliefs, cultural standards, relative values - our own sense of pride. But pride condemns us in a court of law and withers and weakens against the judgement of the guilty conscience, an affliction that has ever burdened warriors since Herodotus first chronicled the self-induced blindness of an Athenian at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

So, the philosophy must become the physical, the ethos must become action - that's why we train, to physically clarify our ethos, to physically activate our philosophy, not only for our corporal protection, but to fortify our spirit, embracing the warrior's universal humility to reconcile the scars scored upon the soul. The physical itself, on its own, is devoid of meaning without it - a sword cut technique is simply that, a procedure to cut with a sword. But the technique gains priority, consequence, only by fulfilling higher action - ethical action, which is always moral-physical.

The sharper our understanding of what is moral provides acute awareness of what is ethical, and our Taijutsu is the direct action of our ethic. With a moral philosophy as our base, Taijutsu becomes lucid, our behavior, our movement becomes the creative spontaneity of ethical awareness, one that protects us, everyone around us, and even our enemy, if possible, killing only to protect life - the warrior's everlasting paradox.

This perspective is not opinion, it is not simply what we think or believe, it is, in fact, Taijutsu's foundation, its uncommon sense, the counter-intuitiveness of our human nature made physical. When one is ignorant to it, there is no spark to ignite the connectivity of Taijutsu, only technical procedure, while openings remain open, leaving us dangerously unprotected as the kukan collapses, time evaporates, and leaves our 'intuitiveness' in charge to ramp up the speed and pour on the power in futile effort to 'get ahead,' thinking our technique is to blame, when in actuality it is the woefully lax initiative, poor positioning, and inadequate leverage that account for our absent advantage. We are dancing, but missing the beat. We are moving, but have no rhythm. Focusing on the singular tree, leaves us blind to the wonders of the ancient forest before us.

When we recognize the warrior ethic, accept it, Taijutsu manifests, the kukan is as shield, our openings disappear, and we not only 'see the space' (thank you, Jack), but also 'shape the space,' and thereby dictate the outcome. Our ethic drives our tactic and chooses our technique. This is "ninshiki" - we are (sub)consciously ahead, naturally earlier, and can sustainably remain so.

So for us, training isn't about making our Taijutsu better, training is about making us better - Taijutsu the gift of our perseverance on the path of Budo, to clarify, activate, and sustain the ageless common sense so many warriors over so many millennium gave their lives to protect and preserve.


Bujinkan Shingitai-Ichi Dojo Gasshuku
October 7-9, 2011
Edwards YMCA Camp and Retreat Center
N8901 Army Lake Rd
East Troy, WI 53120

• Friday, October 7th
o Check-In: 5:00-6:00pm
o Training: 6:00-8:30pm
James Morganelli
o Dinner: 9:00pm

• Saturday, October 8th
o Breakfast: 8:00-9:00am
o Makko Ho: 9:00-10:00am
Tomoko Morganelli
o Training: 10:00-12:30pm
James Morganelli
o Lunch: 12:30-2:00pm
o Training: 2:00-6:00pm
Break-Out Sessions
James Morganelli
Joe Bunales
Jeff Patchin
Jim Delorto
o Dinner: 6:30pm
o NightGames: 10:00pm

• Sunday, October 9th
o Breakfast: 8:00-9:00am
o Makko Ho: 9:00-10:00am
Tomoko Morganelli
o Skill Sets: 10:00-12:00pm
Various Instructors
o Lunch: 12:00-1:00pm
o Training: 1:00-3:30pm
'Hoop Training'
James Morganelli
Joe Bunales
Jeff Patchin
Jim Delorto

• Sleeping bag and pillow
• Toiletries
• Training gear
• NightGames gear (camouflage, boots, gloves)
• Flashlight with red lens
• Extra batteries
• Rain gear
• Snacks and drinks

Cost: $130.00 (pre-registration)/$150.00 (at the door)
Includes: All training, lodging, Saturday and Sunday breakfast.

Shidoshi bringing at least three students can attend for half price: $65.00

Tshirts available for $20.00ea

Please remit checks for pre-registration to:
James Morganelli
6312 N Lakewood Ave, Unit 1
Chicago, IL 60660

Check out our Facebook link:

August 7, 2011

Turn 40. Train. Get a sword.

So, I turned 40. I taught and I trained. Afterward, we had tacos and margaritas. But this time the birthday sombrero came out. I got to wear it and it's pretty awesome - very throw-downable-and-dance-around. After a couple drinks, I came close.

Over that weekend, I taught and trained again and the boys got me a sword. It's a really nice sword - hand crafted and detailed by our own Bryan M. It's got a naked-lady-geisha tsuba, a live, custom 'ninja-to' length, a hand-carved handle, and even represents the colors of our dojo - black, orange, blue, and stuff. Oh, and this is pretty cool ...

We had fun training. We always seem to. I like to think it's because we're in tune with what we need to be in tune with, letting everything else come up when needed, when necessary. And that's the rub, ain't it? Knowing what is necessary, illuminates what is not.

If one sets themself on the path of Budo, Taijutsu is necessary; it recreates the kukan as shield, one that protects yourself, others, and all others, even the enemy. That's a hard one, isn't it? In fact, it's the hardest one. Taijutsu, when done right, is life-protecting-respecting-sustaining. In this regard, Taijutsu is an ethical imperative for warriors, and we just can't do it right, unless we do it in a moral way. This begs the question: How do we know what is moral?

But that's the great thing about priorities, they allow us to discern here from there, this from that, now from then, and ultimately, right from wrong. Without a qualifier, all things are even, all things are equal, all things are relative. When there is no one thing that is special to us, that is sacred, ideal, then all things are given chance to jockey to be such. And it gets confusing.

If one equivocates martial arts with the art of martial Taijutsu, then mastering that Okuden level Gyokko Ryu kata (you know, the one where you twist, and grab the guy) becomes just as important as the awareness to judge when we should use our abilities and how to apply them reasonably and responsibly under given circumstances. And where does it end? Answer: It doesn't.

You see, it can't - if everything is a priority (because nothing is) then every kata is just as important as every other one, every detail of all the minutiae of our collective lineage and history must be first swallowed whole and memorized: You can't just have a piece of cake, you must eat the entire cake for that's the only way to understand that it's chocolate. (But don't I only need one piece - in fact, one bite - to know if it's any good? In other words, if it's worth eating?)

We humans are not meant to roam compass-less for the same reason cell phones burn out earlier when constantly trying to locate a signal - our own human nature will defy us. If what we tell it to do is in reality innately unreasonable, we lessen ourselves, are weakened, easily confounded, and on the path to disillusionment by our lack of direction, our lack of priority.

If one sets themself on the path of Budo, one must know the right from the wrong. Otherwise, we can't use Taijutsu. Hatsumi sensei has said as much and written about it many times. Taijutsu is not difficult, only made so by our perception of it. If you wish to do it well, just remember three things: whenever you move, protect yourself, protect everyone around you, and also protect your opponent, if possible, all at the same time. That's it.

Shidoshi Joe Bunales giving Charlie Harrison what for.
After training, we hit the bar, had a drink, and shared some laughs.

I'm pretty certain, it was the safest bar in town.

June 11, 2011

Thompson's Rhetorica

"Any bias you show will be used as a weapon against you."

"Never start 'negative music.' It cancels intel."

"Practice 'Tactical Civility.'"


"You can never change attitude at the moment it is being given."

"Let a man's attitude drift like a boat downstream - judge them by their behavior."

"Deal with attitude when it is not an issue."

"Know your weaknesses."

A 'mushin' riddle: "There is a man at home. He is wearing a mask. Another man is coming home."

Street Truth: "People never say what they mean, especially when they're upset."

"Empathy absoarbs tension."

"Be inspired by everything you teach." (It will keep you teaching.)

"The body cannot lie."

"Thank god for the woman who throws plates when she's mad at you - she's still in love."

The master of Verbal Judo, its originator, its founder, Dr. George "Doc" Thompson, has died. Doc was 69. His death unexpected.

He was the English professor turned street cop, a PhD, who over the course of several decades, taught one million professionals his matrix of redirecting negative behavior through persuasion. It was Thompson's take on Aristotle's Rhetorica. Although it would be impossible to survey, it is probably true the teaching and use of Verbal Judo has protected countless people and saved countless lives.

If you know nothing of VJ, do yourself a favor and at the very least buy the book, "Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion." You may find several uncanny correlations to training.

I certainly didn't know Doc well, but what I did know of him, I liked. It was hard not to. I had only just gotten to know him, recently taking part in a VJ cert last March. He was gregarious, bigger than life in a way; he could walk into a room and own it by sheer personality alone. A bear of a man and probably a genius on some level, he treated me like a peer when we first met even though I wasn't. That was Doc. He was that guy - a man you wanted to know. He will be sorely missed by his family, his friends, colleagues, and those who took part in his training.

Doc Thompson and those like him (although there are probably few with his kind of influence) are fascinating people, illuminating us through hard-wrought experience an anti-intuitive perspective that reliably makes the world a better, safer place. Doc's vision was clear, so is his message - save lives and get home safe. His training reflected that and people responded in droves; one million professionals taught - think about that!

"Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back."

Doc was arguably that one bringing the others home.

Thank you, Doc.

May 22, 2011

Night of the Living Groupons

So, last Friday night we had arranged a special night of training - I was calling it 'Better Half' night, when all the guys were free to invite their "better halves" - wives, fiances, girlfriends (and family and friends, of course) to training for our 'Taijutsu Primer.'

I figured it was about time we create an opportunity for others who don't train regularly to gain insight into defending themselves and protecting others as well as perhaps see us and training a little differently. The plan was to introduce the Primer, setting up a grand experiment for all of us to test the durability of this contextual training. I didn't plan on training all night and figured we’d be across the street clinking margaritas before long (we eat tacos every Friday night after training - it's like a thing). The night was also to give opportunity to watch delivery of the concepts – important because I want the senior guys to have a firm understanding.

So, the plan, if there was any plan, was for a fun night all of us could remember, a night when we passed on the training to those we want to have it most.

And then a 'Groupon' happened. No, not a 'grope on' - a group coupon. For those living under rocks, on Mars, with earmuffs on, here's the Wikipedia entry:

Groupon (a portmanteau derived from "group coupon") is a deal-of-the-day website that features discounted gift certificates usable at local or national companies. Groupon was launched on November 2008, the first market for Groupon was Chicago, followed soon thereafter by Boston, New York City, and Toronto. As of October 2010, Groupon serves more than 150 markets in North America and 100 markets in Europe, Asia and South America and has amassed 35 million registered users.
The idea for Groupon was created by now-CEO and Pittsburgh native Andrew Mason. The idea subsequently gained the attention of his former employer, Eric Lefkofsky, who provided $1 million in "seed money" to develop the idea. In April 2010, the company was valued at $1.35 billion. According to a report conducted by Groupon's marketing association and reported in Forbes Magazine, which was reported by the Wall Street Journal, Groupon is "projecting that the company is on pace to make $1 billion in sales faster than any other business, ever".
Got it? Well, I didn't got it. 

When we showed up for training we found, like, 15 people waiting for their Groupon lesson - my Groupon lesson. Turns out the Center had signed up with Groupon to offer classes at - you're going to love this - a 95% discount where $1 gets you $20. And our little Bujinkan class was first to bat.

Read the Fine Print.
Now, granted, it would have been nice if someone had, like, let me know, or something. But, whatever - Banpen Fugyo! Ichi go, Ichi e! I only regret that I have but one life to - you get the point.

So, with around 30 people in the room, we quickly realized that our little Friday night get together just got real. This was not a punishment, it was an opportunity. See, almost all these new folks had zero experience - no training background whatsoever; this was to be their very first time. I thought that fortuitous. And before starting, I had a chance to go around the room, shake hands and chit chat - these were nice people. Clearly interested, they had spent their whole dollar to take a chance on what it would get them. It bought them time with me. And I gotta tell ya, I let'em have it. 

Who's here for martial arts training, I boomed at the room. They raised their hands. Great - we're not going to do that. They looked at me like, huh? Instead, we're going to look at what makes martial arts work.

Martial Arts weren't invented for self-defense, I said. For the last 100,000 years mankind has had a very effective form of self-defense ... it's called running away. Martial Arts were developed when we couldn't run away, when we had to protect others.

I told them this was easy, and natural, that they could already do it, and we were here to coach it out of them. We trained for about an hour - the room was raucous and exciting. With just a little coaching, these new folks - our better halves and our new friends - settled in. With a welcoming and respectful attitude, we had everyone moving with coordinated goals in short order. People who had never trained before were soon taking balance, gaining leverage, and downing partners with their maneuvering. Smiles were wide and laughter came easy - these folks were having fun and recognizing something no one had ever pointed out to them. And ... no one got hurt - always a bonus.           

After an hour, they were done - I could see the shift from enthusiasm, the quiet onset of fatigue signaling the brain is full. With everyone still smiling, still having fun, I brought it to a close -remember, less is more.

At the end, I told them this was a gift from us to them, but that it was now their responsibility, and it would not get better without training. I also told them it was their choice as to what they would do with it - would they use it to bully others or would they use it to prevent such? And I told them Jack Hoban's "Bully" story. 

We bowed out and thanked everyone for coming and they thanked us. Turns out, some are planning to come back. And if they do, that's great. They really were good folks.   

And then we gathered up our little group, now with few new faces, went across the street and had a taco.

Man, was it good.