August 19, 2014

The Ethical Protector

The Ethical Protector
Jack Hoban and Bruce Gourlie have just released their newest book, "The Ethical Protector" through RGI Publications and it is a tremendous work. 

I say that not simply because I had the privilege of editing it and writing its Foreword, which you can read below, but because the book is solid, from its moral philosophy to its actionable ethic. 

Geared for Law Enforcement Officers on the heels of Jack's previous work, "The Ethical Warrior," it is a nuts-and-bolts approach based on a series of articles written for 

Pick up a copy for yourself and one to giveaway. 

You will not be disappointed.


Some years ago I traveled to the west coast for training at a weekend event led by Jack Hoban. You may know of Jack. If you do, consider yourself lucky. If this is the first you’ve heard of him, consider yourself lucky.

During one of the segments, I was called to the front and given the task of physically defending another person who was to be attacked. Now, I was a highly adept martial artist training since I was nine and even lived in Japan for several years studying with the very best teachers of my art. I was not concerned about getting physical with an attacker. The attacker should be concerned about being attacked by me.

A fellow stepped up and proceeded to attack my “protectee,” at which point I interceded to use my 20-odd years of experience to handily dispatch him. I can remember feeling pretty satisfied as I loomed over the aggressor, now face down in the dust, and twisted him into an airtight submission. I probably wanted to impress Jack and anyone else watching.  I remember that moment as well as I remember the next: Turning to my “protectee” to acknowledge his safety, I realized I couldn’t find him. He’d been silently nabbed by an unknown second attacker—cue the laugh track and the fool. I could be thankful it had not been “real life.”

Jack was the one who had (sneakily, I might add) arranged the abduction. He had nothing against me, he was simply taking advantage of the opportunity to teach a larger lesson. And I have never forgotten that lesson. It laid bare the one thing no professional ever wants to admit they possess—a weakness they weren’t even aware they had. My ability to serve up martial skill when needed lacked the one thing truly necessary for right action: Clarity of what one ought to do. My job, my role, in that moment was not to attack the attacker. It was to defend the person I was supposed to safeguard. Protect his life. Be his protector.

With all my training and experience one might think that I should have already known this; that it would be second nature, a given. It was not. And the truth is, it is not for many other professionals. In that crucial moment, I was convinced I was doing the right thing, but I was wrong. I was confused. I failed in my ethical duty.

After training and studying with Jack for some 15 years, working with him these past several, teaching conflict resolution to LEOs alongside the experts at Resolution Group International (including Bruce Gourlie), being inspired to achieve a master’s degree in Ethics, and having now trained martial arts for more than 35 years, I cannot over-emphasize the value of philosophical clarity for the protector ethic. The best reason to study martial arts or defensive tactics inevitably brings us full circle to the originating purpose behind their ancient conception and ageless refinement: Protecting others. The clarity of this protector ethic is by far the most important lesson for the simple reason that it puts every other lesson in context. Protecting others is to protect oneself; protecting self and others is to protect the value of life.
It is no mistake that within the annals of martial history, the highest order of mastery has always been the ability to undo an enemy while sparing his or her life, if at all possible. And within the philosophic realm, the value of life is the absolute value that qualifies all other human values. What good are any of our relative values if they are twisted to violate the existence and dignity of even one human being?
The LEO “Ethical Protector” knows this. It is second nature. It is a given. The protector ethic purges the confusion of moral ambiguity and offers an actionable ethic to reinvigorate ourselves, recalibrate our motivating purpose, and challenge us to act in accordance with who we know we ought to be. Clarity of moral purpose leads to ethical action.

The authors’ wisdom and talent to deliver these lessons is unsurpassed. Bruce Gourlie is a Federal Supervisory Special Agent, certified in firearms and Police instruction. He is a leadership instructor, a published author, a former US Army infantry officer and a long-time practitioner of martial arts. Jack Hoban is a Subject Matter Expert for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and president of Resolution Group International (RGI). He had the privilege of being mentored by Dr. Robert “Bob” Humphrey, a Natural Law sage and Cold War conflict resolution expert, who first articulated the Dual Life Value Theory. Jack also is a long-time student of Japanese martial arts master Masaaki Hatsumi, and under Dr. Hatsumi’s tutelage, has attained true mastership of the martial ways.  
Mastering these two halves—our natural, life-protecting ethic, as well as, the physicality required to protect it morally—places both Jack and Bruce in a particularly rare position and grants the rest of us an extraordinary opportunity to train and learn this clarity for ourselves.

The Ethical Warrior concept was developed and is practiced by the United States Marine Corps. It is transmitted to the Marines through the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). The concept has been adapted for Law Enforcement and is referred to as the Ethical Protector concept.
This book is adapted from a series of articles written originally for LEOs on, but be assured, the lessons herein are timeless and immutable. They can, have, and will grant us clarity. Clarity for the protector in all of us.

James V. Morganelli

July 13, 2014

Thank you

I very much appreciate the well wishes for my manuscript!

From here on, I'll be following up with traditional publishers.



June 26, 2014

Breath, Fear, and Conflict

“Agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger,” is the dictionary definition of fear. But why should danger cause us agitation and anxiety when many people do dangerous things everyday? Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things anyone can do – over a five year period more than 25% of drivers will be involved in an accident, roughly one out of four. Yet among the public there is a much greater fear of flying, which is statistically far safer, than of driving. So what exactly are we afraid of?

The ancestor of the word fear, the Old English “fǽr,” meant calamity or disaster. Modern synonyms of fear, such as trepidation, consternation, and dismay, mark the hesitancy, paralyzing helplessness, and the robbing of courage to act. So, whereas “fear” characterizes an emotional response, it seems the consequences of inaction, hesitancy, and helplessness may be its cause.

Feeling we aren’t capable enough, or strong enough, or smart enough to make it, to finish, to “win,” are primal fears – of first importance - indicative of our notions about survival. Fear is a survival instinct. Our own genetics are collectively infused with 10,000 years of cautious living - fearful survival. Fear, and our respect for it, has kept our species alive and as much as we may try, it’s not about to disappear just because we get a Yahoo! account. But it does fade.

Our reliance on technology and modern society’s conveyances and security tries hard to reduce fear’s gift to us. So much so, that many folks seek out fear-inducing thrills – scary movies, thrilling physical feats like skydiving or bungee jumping – in what I believe to be an unconscious attempt to sharpen, even reinvigorate their instinct of fear. 

Unless you’ve been to war, or perhaps serve in law-enforcement, I suspect not many have much use for fear as an instinct of survival. Most don’t believe they live “day to day” and don’t actually have to deal with the circumstances of aggressive conflict. They’re citizens, who have jobs, families, a lifestyle, money, resources – security. They probably feel secure enough inside the lives they lead, so as not to need to live fearfully - read, carefully or even respectfully.

Animals don’t live fearfully or fearlessly, they just live. They’ve learned to walk that line between the two because they have to – their very lives may depend on it. Humans shared these instincts long ago much more than we do today. Our remarkable progress in human endeavor has ensured our mastery of the Earth, but it has inevitably segregated us from nature, making it possible to insulate ourselves from any reliance on fear to assist us in living. What we have lost is our sense of awareness - acute observational vigilance – critical to our very survival. Awareness also has to do with our capacity to understand the depth and scope of what we might face, which gives us a leg up on how to meet and diminish it, not letting it destroy us. 

We learn to drive, and drive effectively, without being afraid, yet there may be times while driving we become fearful, such as in inclement weather, chaotic traffic, or unpredictable circumstances. Yet the more experience we accrue driving, the more we find we can tolerate – the more confident and unflappable we become of our own and others’ survival. I wouldn’t call this “fear inoculation,” but rather learning to mitigate our fears through proper training to formulate “good habits.” 

The training of martial arts for good habits can likewise reduce the threat of the consequences of hesitancy and helplessness, so we can act in spite of being afraid in the face of imminent danger. Training provides access to a knowledge base that is thousands of years old and contains options to age-old problems of conflict. By studying these options, we begin to demystify the problem, and gain answers that offer a glimpse into the martial perspective.

Consistent training in a relaxed manner, free from anxiety and tension is one of the best ways to achieve the confident composure required to deal with conflict and danger. This is not only the key to gaining ability in Taijutsu, it also provides us a physiological advantage in the awareness and command of our body under the conditions of stress.

Our autonomic nervous system makes up the physiological aspects out of our direct control, like heartbeat and perspiration. When its sympathetic response, like the emotions of fear and anger, unleash themselves it is our breath that can bring them back into alignment and control. Thus the study and command of proper breathing is another good habit everyone should strive for.

Lie down and draw the feet in, so the knees raise up. “Lengthen” the body by activating the posture – have the feeling of trying to touch the top of one’s head to the wall. Begin breathing by inhaling through the nose to the fullest extent. Fill the lungs to capacity and exhale through the nose.

On the second inhalation, inhale again through the nose as if filling the entire body cavity with air - like a balloon. Exhale through the mouth with the distinctive sound, “HAAA.” The belly should rise and fall with each breath, in and out. The back should also expand, closing the gap between the small of the back and the floor on each inhalation (this expansion is also true while in a seated position).

This belly breathing can become the natural way of breathing. It is how most babies breathe and can be very useful with Taijutsu. Once comfortable with the manner above, begin to push the belly outward, expanding it like a balloon on inhalation, and then draw it in, contracting it, on exhalation. Push the muscles out to make the belly round, creating space inside the body cavity, and then pull the muscles in, as if trying to touch the spine with the stomach from the inside. Hold for several seconds, before and after inhalation. This is not only worthwhile training, but also serves as a massage for the organs and can assist with problems of digestion.

Tactical Breathing
Throughout the Law Enforcement and military community there exists a manner of breathing for stress reduction commonly known as “Tactical Breathing.” It is well known that stress affects the body in destructive ways over short and long periods of time. Conscious and sustained breath control during periods of stress and post-stress (when vulnerability may actually be highest) calms nerves to regain focus and control. The widely used technique is an “inhale-hold-exhale-hold” method most often based upon a count of four: 
Inhale through the nose and into the belly for four counts
Hold for four counts 
Exhale through the mouth for four counts
Hold for four counts
Repeat as needed
On Breathing
When trying to fit arbitrary breathing methods into various positions, movements, or endeavors we may find them cumbersome and intrusive. There are methods of deep breathing, belly breathing, and chest breathing, but none of them may seem to be appropriate all of the time. In some cases, belly breathing may be best, in others, higher up, chest breathing. Knowing how breath “fits” into the actions being performed is better than relying on any single method.

Shizuto Masunaga writes about breathing and the use of imagery at length in his book, Meridian Exercises: 
In ancient times Chinese said that people near death breathed through their nose only, while sick persons breathed with their shoulders, and ordinary people breathed with their chest. Wise men were said to breathe with their belly, and masters from the soles of their feet. This means that the lower the focal point of one’s breathing, the more an individual has ochituski (Japanese for settled or stable Ki) or composure, and the more one can breathe with his whole body. Abdominal breathing is what wise individuals strive for, but even this is not the ultimate way to breathe. The ideal to work toward is a mental image of drawing in and sending out Ki from the tips of our fingers and toes.    
Integrating the principles of Hara Kokyuho, deep breathing methods, including activation of the posture, into everyday life is a terrific way to maintain superior breath and give us a pathway toward better well-being and awareness. This also increases our chances of understanding the way breath can and should operate naturally whether training, fighting, or resting.

June 12, 2014

To Train a Warrior Art – Part III

This third and final installment has to do with moving in tactical space, the last piece to training warrior arts.

As the story goes, at the Hombu dojo in Japan, Soke Masaaki Hatsumi painted the kanji for “life” on a sheet a paper. Then flipped it over and painted “death” on the back - a poetic distinction of the meager difference between living and dying.

Physically, this sheer difference is also the realistic margin of error we’re working within when we train. Too often, I see folks using far too much or too little space, paying no mind to the margin. But if the thickness of paper can mean the difference between life and death, then something like a foot of misused space might as well be the zombie apocalypse. General Douglas MacArthur supposedly said the following after battling the Japanese to reach Australia:
It was close, but that's the way it is in war. You win or lose, live or die - and the difference is just an eyelash. 
What happens when we lose sight of the margin? When our movement is too thick or thin and ill-timed? That’s easy: We set ourselves up to die. That’s the end, the one and only result when talking warrior arts.

So, how do we maintain this margin and train ourselves to stay within the thickness of a sheet of paper? Ultimately, we train and keep going. But first, we must learn to recognize the margin, recognize "tactical space." 

What is “tactical space?” What do we mean when we say “seeing the tactical space?” Is there really something there to “see?” Yes, but it's not something we merely observe, rather it’s about visualizing our martial awareness.

The term “space” is a little confusing here since we are really trying to determine at least two aspects when we speak of it. The first involves recognizing openings, vulnerabilities, that may be of use defensively or offensively. And the second is determining the particular timing necessary to their utilization, which normally requires entering or retreating from them. Now, I know that seems like a lot, but it turns out we already do this a good deal of the time. At least, if you drive a car. I can think of at least two rules here:
Keep open the tactical space. 
Expand into tactical space.
Driving a vehicle requires us to “see the tactical space” in a way that is very similar to martial arts. The vehicle occupies a certain area, just like our bodies do. As we operate the car we need to continually invoke and habituate the two rules mentioned above: We need to consistently keep the area around the vehicle open, which requires keen awareness of the occupied space of the vehicle and the environment and obstacles that it’s operating in and nearby. And we need to continually maneuver the vehicle into space we can expand into - area that is unoccupied - as this prevents the vehicle from hitting anything, which may include other vehicles and pedestrians. Driving, changing lanes, parking, and backing up requires that we perform at least these two aspects and consistently so.

Lastly, we don’t drive cars just anywhere. We don’t drive them onto sidewalks and through the front yards of people’s homes. There are these things called “roads” and when we drive we use them as guides. The manner in which we negotiate roads by the two rules above represents the use of the “tactical space,” since the roads are the key to getting us where we want to go.

Now, this driving analogy isn’t perfect because it represents a 2-D model, whereas martial arts move ideally in three dimensions. “Expanding” into tactical space is the key here - moving in all three dimensions as opposed to two. We are most familiar with mobility in two dimensions, the north/south, east/west movements, because many of us take for granted the third dimension as we move and interact with the world - the z-axis or up/down movement. We are always activating this axis - gravity requires us to do so. But this action, so intrinsic and ingrained in our daily mobility, often means it is left out of our martial movements. Which is unfortunate since training in 3-D is necessary to take full advantage of tactical space. So, we must learn (or relearn as the case may be) to reactivate this axis to gain advantage over what is often two-dimensional movement used against us. 

The analogy also doesn’t paint all options regarding what is and is not tactical space. Certainly moving into any open space, including the opposite side of the road, may be a better alternative to preserve life and escape an accident than risking injury and death by following the “rules of the road.” But I’m sure you get the point.

All of this means orienting ourselves to be a good driver, which means being a “defensive driver.” Defensive driving is all about raising awareness of your actions and behavior. This includes but may not be limited to: Following distance, vehicle speed, and focus for consistency of movement. One’s following distance is measured by how much time one follows the car ahead. The vehicle speed positions the car in regards to its context, the circumstances of its environment, like traffic and weather. And the final aspect regards the focus one employs for consistent, non-erratic driving, as in refraining from distracting actions, like texting and driving.

These elements matter because they foster acuity from which to deliver spontaneous and creative responses to variables we may well encounter while driving, like roadway debris and accidents. This habituated high-level of awareness, our bearing, then allows us take advantage of tactical space – time and place - so that if something unexpected happens, we have the wherewithal and enough time to avoid it whether that means slowing down, stopping, or changing direction. These three simple aspects of defensive driving that most of us probably take for granted translate well to the martial sphere as initiative, positioning, and leverage – the three principles of Taijutsu and one could argue Budo as a whole. 

INITIATIVE is represented by “when” as in “when ought I act?” It characterizes the timing of our motivational instincts of self-and-others preservation, our “common sense,” to initiate the scope and shape of our ethical bearing, our response to the "ought" of obligation when we deal with conflict.

POSITIONING is represented by “where” as in “where ought I act?” It physically maneuvers the body tactically, which provides no openings for conflict to occur.

LEVERAGE is represented by “what” as in “what ought I do?” The application of techniques, their shaping and manipulation, belong to the state of leverage we can gain over conflict to ensure our response’s “viability,” or the life-preserving action that occurs when the ethical and tactical are reconciled.   

Together these principles make up the elements necessary for successful use of tactical space or the “moment” of motive, place, and action. To use them successfully we must abide by the two rules above regarding keeping the tactical space open so that we can expand into it as necessary.

The main issue in preventing use of tactical space and refining one’s combat mindset and “tacticality” as I like to say, is the reliance upon techniques to “do the work.” But as it turns out this is not simply an issue for the martial community but the military as well.

Check out this quote from the “Maneuver Warfare Handbook,” by William S. Lind. The quote itself is by Colonel Michael D. Wyly, USMC, from the introduction to a lecture series on tactics he delivered to the Amphibious Warfare School in the 1981-82 school year. It is longish, but highly informative.

After he first declares that the “fundamentals” of tactics are not “control measures” and “formats” (think techniques and kata), he defines fundamentals as, “that which dealt with defeating the enemy. The answer to the question of what will work to undo the opposing force is what we must be searching for in tactics … All else is peripheral.”
… First the student must learn to think creatively, to innovate, and to do the things that will most quickly seek out the enemy’s weak spots and undo him. Learning to think in that fashion is fundamental … Once these fundamentals are learned, that is, once the student has begun to think clearly about how best to undo his adversary, once he has been rewarded in the classroom or the field for creative thought, the careful weighing of alternatives and risks followed by boldness in decision-making, he will then be ready to study definitions, control measures and formats. He will grasp their meaning more rapidly, for he will have a context in which to place them. They will be more than words and symbols. 
When we teach tactics in the opposite order, that is, the mechanics ahead of the thinking, too often we produce, instead of soldiers, structured mechanics who find it difficult to think without rules. The art of war has no traffic with rules. Yet I have often seen students reject their best tactical ideas because they could not fit them into the format.     
As this quote is representational of warfare – they are past the politics of deployment and already on the field of battle - and not the civilian and martial sphere, I would tweak the first paragraph, perhaps exchanging the word “creatively” for “ethically,” and then apply the notion to the six-model contexts from Part II (Escape, Resist, Extract, Intercede, Confront, Subdue). Bearing in mind the protector ethic, which of those contexts will “undo” the adversary? "Learning to think in that fashion is fundamental."       

Wyly also cautions against becoming, “structured mechanics who find it difficult to think without rules” (think "technique collectors"). “Seeing” the space between you and your partner, let alone an opponent, as extraordinarily charged, is to treat them as if they are radioactive. When is the earliest point I (or others) can disengage from threats or danger? 

Following that gut feeling is to speak from the ethic and ask, how ought I protect myself and/or protect others? Concentrating on the motive of “ought” - when we ought and ought not to act - opens us to the opportunities for technique. So, we must make a concentrated effort to let go of “what to do.” Turns out, there is no what to do, only our personal ethical bearing and "when" and "where" to act upon it. It is this combination that naturally produces the “what,” the technique.

Our own human nature can in some ways work against our best intentions. For every day we go conflict free, every chance, turn, and moment we feel safe and secure, we are seduced into dropping our guard, our mindset of zanshin (and sanshin, the shingitai) just a little bit more (to say nothing of the way in which society’s moral relativism seduces to drop our ethical bearing!) When we start focusing on technique to do our work for us, when we let the “what to do” drive the moment of its use, we numb ourselves just a little bit more to our own common sense, our own common humanity. This should scare the hell out of any serious budoka.

There is an old Japanese proverb, Ichi go, Ichi e, 一期一会,and it speaks to having, “one time, one meeting.” It is often used to describe the transient uniqueness of a given moment and thus it is apt for use in Budo and warrior arts as, “no second chances.” Years ago, Hatsumi sensei painted Ichi go, Ichi e for me during a break in training. And being the poet he is, changed its meaning entirely by substituting kanji characters that sounded identical phonetically, but had an altogether different meaning. His new phrase? Ichi go, Ichi e一会, “one enlightenment, one meeting.”

Just as there may be no second chances to safeguarding life, there may be no second chances for safeguarding life.   

May 30, 2014

To Train a Warrior Art - Part II

This third and last aspect is the most difficult to achieve. It’s to reconcile the ethic with tactical insight to best maintain martial viability - the way we physically train to keep oneself and others alive. There are two separate points:
1. Fundamental ethical contexts 
2. Movement in Tactical Space
Fundamental Ethical Contexts
Most martial training concentrates on the practice of techniques. The thinking is that if they can be intuited by memorized practice, muscle memory will form, and the techniques will simply occur - even without conscious thought - when needed.

Now, I personally don’t even like it when I say things absent-mindedly – a Freudian slip or whatever – they are always mistakes. So, I am not a fan of a methodology for my body to react to conflict without my consent. This is an especially unpleasant court defense - “My body just reacted.” That’s great, Bruce Lee. Find your checkbook.    

If technique-oriented focus is useful it is only useful sparingly to introduce and familiarize students with sometimes esoteric or historical movements. The danger is in its continued use and reliance. Learning techniques as answers inevitably drives the moment of their use – if one has a hammer just about everything is a nail. This is not only naïve, it can be deadly to the user who forces a technique in a threatening situation. Lousy martial artists are like lousy magicians here – obvious and oblivious to it. 

For ability to truly advance we must recognize and intuit tactical insight. Thus training does not break down into specific “what-to-dos” – techniques - but rather how we can know and habituate knowing the right “what-to-do” under given circumstances. This means even a single technique could be utilized in a variety of ways under a variety of contexts. If training is about anything, it’s not simply about practicing a range of techniques as options, but habit forming a method to know how an option is right for any given moment. To understand this aspect we have to recognize this truth: Ethical action is tactical action.

Tactics alone may not necessarily beget ethics – you can take any number of tactical actions, but none of them may be ethical. However, ethics, and in this case we speak of a “Protector Ethic” – protection of self, others, and if possible, all others including the enemy - will always beget tactics. In essence, if you do the ethical action that is prudent – common sensible - you will automatically do the most tactical thing you can do as well. The inherent balance needs to be found in common sense. We are not out to do the “most rightest action,” but the action we know we ought to do and are capable of doing.  

An example: You are enjoying an evening with your significant other. Upon exiting a restaurant you are greeted by a brawling crowd in the parking lot. You know none of the brawlers. What ought you do?
A. Escape to the relative safety of the restaurant and call authorities. 
B. Extract the person in the brawl most at risk. 
C. Intercede and stop the fighting. 
D. Confront and subdue any perpetrator.
The truth is that any of these options and more, may, in fact, be the “right” thing to do. If your significant is about to be set upon, you may very well extract them. If it’s your family or friends that are brawling you may intercede and separate everyone. If a police officer is about to be overwhelmed or overcome, you may decide to go to their aid by confronting aggressors. If you are of law enforcement you may have to subdue those involved and arrest them. Bear in mind, each of these options may also be appropriate even if you know no one involved, but simply recognize when strangers need help and protection they cannot deliver for themselves.

This brings us to back to the point: Ethical action is tactical action. Knowing the ethical context – what you ought to do – points us toward the tactical action you can do. Ought we escape, defend ourselves, or protect others? The ethical context activates our feedback loop against how well we know ourselves and our martial ability. Once those elements reconcile we can be prudent toward common sense action – what we ought and can do. If you’ve a high level of skill, but you’re sick or injured, then repositioning by escape is probably for you. If you’re low skilled, but a loved one is under attack, it would be hard not to intercede on their behalf.   

I count six fundamental ethical contexts for training: 
1. Escape
2. Resist
3. Extract
4. Intercede
5. Confront
6. Subdue
ESCAPE is to reposition so as to be alleviated from immediate danger, threat, and conflict: Running away, outmaneuvering, seeking cover or concealment, driving off, causing a distraction, whatever. In these cases, escaping stops the conflict. Escape must be the first level of tactical training that everyone knows and understands – especially kids. In our physical training, escape takes the form of Taihenjutsu Ukemi, the dynamic body in action for familiarity with the ground and the prevention of injury. This may involve tumbling and leaping skills against armed and unarmed opponents, climbing, and vaulting. If students cannot attain skill enough to physically reposition, reassess, and reduce or eliminate any imminent threat, no other training will matter. In fact, nothing else will matter.

To RESIST is what we typically think of as self-defense. We resist when escaping is not an option and until we can facilitate an escape. This will involve times when one is caught and cannot get away or when doing so may increase the likelihood of harm. Resisting means removing oneself from people’s grip whether that’s a bear hug, or wrist/lapel/elbow/hair grabs, tackling and mounted positions, even defeating mechanical restraints like handcuffs and flexties Houdini-style. It involves recognizing the range of the body’s natural weapons (we count 16): A variety of fist and hand positions, elbows, knees, legs and feet, and even the teeth and head. Not to mention the best and surest weapon of all, the body’s full weight. One should also be familiar with the body’s targeted points of weakness: The eyes and throat, soft spots of the head and face, nose, teeth, groin, anus, and armpits. For Taijutsu, there are a number of kyusho, weak points, that riddle the body, but their utilization takes study and experience.   

To EXTRACT is to go to the aid of another, specifically to extricate them. In this case, evacuating them reduces or prohibits any threat or harm. These are people that may be injured and need to be carried or simply evacuated from an area. Under stress, one may become confused as to the ethical action to take. In these cases, choose to extract, like a bodyguard, someone in need, making their protection and defense your job. It will not only protect them, but yourself as well.   

To INTERCEDE is to go to the defense of others. It is to lend resistance to another so they can safely escape or you can extract them. The challenge here is in remembering that this action is about protecting and defending them, with the goal of escape or extraction. Many times well-intentioned folks go to the aid of others in conflict only to throw matches on gasoline. Any escalation in threats or violence does not often end well and in the meantime increases the peril of those trapped by it, not to mention bystanders, and the one interceding. It even puts any enemy at greater risk as escalation may be met with broader resistance and violence that may force one’s hand to turn deadly.

CONFRONT is to attack an enemy whether openly or through deception. It may be considered necessary when preventing someone from entering your secure area, be it your home, or anywhere that must be protected and defended. The range of tactics here involve all kinds of martial aspects, however, the manner in which they are best trained is by naturalizing movements so as to “hide” their execution in spontaneous ambiguity and thereby ambush any opponent to grant them little to no time for response.

To SUBDUE  is to effect the submission of threats, done through the physical confinement of an individual by submission locks or holds or a verbal interruption that halts further confrontation. This is by far the most difficult aspect to achieve, both physically and non-physically, for it calls to the highest order of the Protector Ethic – reduction of conflict through protecting everyone, reachable only when all parties feel safe, victims and perpetrators alike.   

If we cast an eye upon the ethic itself and review its all-embracing formula we find that in order to achieve a level that aspires to protection of everyone requires us to embrace tactics of unlimited creativity. This is simply logical: If we can never be certain as to what exactly we will encounter in terms of opposing variables, then it stands to reason the broadest method of defense ought to be embraced. Here in lies the rub.

Each martial art is epitomized by specific techniques that they wish their students to learn. But from the broadest tactical perspective, the application of those techniques may not be especially useful due to the narrow or culturally myopic focus they are normally delivered and understood by. Thus turning attention toward the ethical context can in many ways broaden our awareness of tactical options under given conditions.

Which specific technique is used under those circumstances – the roundhouse kick of Tae Kwon Do or the wrist-twists of Aikido - will in large measure be due to one’s understanding and capacity for such use. The short of it: Know the techniques - the variety of martial arts dictate an assortment of responses. As their practitioner you are ultimately responsible for their choice, use, and consequences. It is this commonality that all martial artists share – the techniques used will vary, but their ethical usage is something everyone need aspire to. Thus right action not only precipitates technical usage, it can indicate which technique from your training is most appropriate. Twisting a drunk’s wrist, who’s pinned a police officer, so they can be handcuffed, is not the same as roundhousing grandma to get her hooks out of Uncle Joe’s neck. This will mean no more ribbon candy at Christmas. 

In Part III, I'll detail movement in tactical space. 

May 22, 2014

To Train a Warrior Art - Part I

This is about characterizing one’s training as a warrior art.

Now, I should quickly note here, this is not me drawing a line regarding debates of “Ninjutsu as Koryu” or “Ninjutsu verses Koryu” or the defining characteristics of historical lineages and what exactly, precisely those lineages actually demonstrate. After a while it all starts to sound like a B-movie monster mash up – Ninjuki VERSES Korukan!

I don’t dispute that these debates are meaningful to some or that they are, in and of themselves, meaningful for history. However, my feelings on the matter are best encapsulated by the now family famous words of my late grandmother, who at 90-odd years of age could still rock a solid joke as when she rose after a viewing of the Tom Hanks tearjerker, “Sleepless in Seattle,” to declare her unequivocal review: “BOOOR-ring!!” After the thesis of her argument had been clearly stated, her unassailable reasoning was to go to bed.

It’s true that these arts are invariably referred to as “warrior arts,” due to their historical and/or lineal distinctions and most characteristically due to the fact they were developed and/or refined and used during periods of war.

My purpose here is not to demonstrate which arts are and which arts are not warrior arts – I’m unclear as to how that exactly improves one’s training and even takes on a “my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad” quality. This is an attempt to show a manner by which to challenge one’s training in order that anyone training martial arts - no matter the art – can approach their training as a warrior art.

Another note is this obvious statement: As martial training is, at the very least, a journey regarding self-awareness, one ought to be prepared to acknowledge that one’s current training may not be one’s final study. In other words, an agnostic may be interested in aspects of theology and may in fact participate in ancillary study of such. But this can only ever be ancillary. The student must acknowledge that only immersion and deep study from within the art itself can manifest the potentials one may be seeking.

I personally don’t feel that the catalog of martial arts as they are known and understood by the general populace covers how I approach training. Due to the art I train in - Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu - and the method I have learned over its years of study, I would grant that the art, such as it is, is really its own catalog – an amalgam of disparate strategies, tactics, techniques, and philosophy. But the difference as I have experienced it is in the manner, the “way” I have chosen to train it. I might call this the “character” of my training. Far from “what” I train – the specific techniques - it is this character that creates the opportunity for distinction. I see three aspects crucial to warrior art characterization: 
1.      Recognize oneself as a protector.
2.      Recognize the root ethic that protectors must defend.
3.      Reconcile this ethic with tactical insight to best maintain martial viability.  
First and most importantly is to embrace the originating role martial arts were discovered for in the first place - that of the “protector.” Protecting oneself and others is intrinsic to human nature and the human family – it is “natural” to us in that the inclination does not require special training. The simple truth here is that without those willing to fight and protect others it is clear there could have been and can be nothing else. So, just as donning the student dogi, uniform, is to feel like a student, embracing the role of protector through training is to activate one's will as such.  

Second, a protector by its own definition must protect something. Thus, the next aspect of a warrior art is the recognition of that which gives meaning, purpose, and authentication to the role of protector.

There are lots of good reasons that people consider themselves to be a protector – for one it just feels right. But no matter how great any single reason is there’s always going to be a glaring issue with it: Conflict between reasons. 

Conflict here is inevitable whether those reasons are different or the same, for different people can define the same reason in extraordinarily different ways – a “subjective” difference. Just take the old adage, “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” You will never convince someone by your reasons that you’re a freedom fighter if they subjectively define those same reasons as in league with terrorists. So, when it comes to authentication, reasons are not enough. We must, in fact, look toward what justifies those reasons, or in essence, what “warrants” them. It will not be something unique we can all agree on, but instead something universal that none of us can deny.

Why recognize the universal? The short answer is it’s the best way to reduce conflict. The long and better answer is that it builds trust. First, if protectors don’t deal in universals, then their thoughts, words, and deeds will remain untrustworthy to those who are forced to live by their decisions. The ethical measure of decisions can often come down to how well they apply to everyone equally. This begins with trying to protect everyone in conflict – victims and perpetrators – and then basing decisions on changing circumstances or context. (One of my students is a police officer whose technique for reducing conflict is to handcuff every suspect - for their protection and his - and then listen to explanations. When he figures out who the bad guys are they’re already cuffed.) If they do not treat everyone equally, decisions will be suspect, as will the protector, and more conflict will foment.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, if protectors don’t deal in universals, then they risk their own thoughts, words, and deeds mutating like cancerous cells and working against them. Doing the right thing means knowing how to discover what the right thing is. But if that’s done through disrespect, dehumanization, greed, or even “right-minded” reasons like a subjective definition of “freedom,” or reliance upon any other relative – subjective – value, then protecting actually becomes more like bullying – coercing the weak by force - which can cause confusion, frustration, and even physical sickness to everyone involved. In today’s world it is known as Post Traumatic Stress. Protectors need clarity to trust their decision-making for they are the ones who must ultimately live with the decisions they may be forced to make.

If we reviewed the history of philosophy we would soon learn of the ongoing debate over its "holy grail" - the “source of normativity” or the “high-yield, super-chief, double-whammy,ganga-ganga” answer to deciphering obligatory human nature and its behavior; philosophers have only been waxing on this for literally thousands of years.

Normativity is understood as the standards or “norms” by which we are compelled to act or behave - a sense of "oughtness." And the source of this normativity is most often contrived as coming from within what I call the “big five”: Values, morals, ethics, justice, and rights. But claiming any particular value, moral, ethic, aspect of justice, or inalienable right as the basis of protector authentication is to miss the forest for the trees – we aren’t looking for the particular or subjective here that everyone must agree on. Humans are funny this way – there’s nothing we all agree on, hence thousands of years of debate. Even if it’s the same thing, we’ll figure out ways to disagree on it just to satisfy a drive for individuality.  

We are instead searching for a simple aspect of logic. The “source” or “warrant” for these aspects must be a universally necessary requirement that connects and invigorates all of these contrivances of human nature.

If you think hard enough, you’ll recognize there's only one thing that ultimately satisfies. In fact, it’s the same commonality that also connects every human to every other human by an earthly basis – a universal value of life. This is the immense motivational drive – the very first natural law of human “inclination” that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of in his epic Summa Theologica - that all humans experience toward their own and most often toward the lives of others they care about.

For this universality to be recognized as true – or for our purposes, such that it cannot be denied - it matters not that some of us do not or will not value all life. Universality only requires the fact that all people do and will value some life, even if it is simply their own or someone else’s. 

If you’re not convinced that the power of duty/oughtness embodied by the big five is due to the value we place on life, then ask yourself: Why do the big five matter anyway? What is it that makes morals, or ethics, or rights valuable in the first place? Is it simply because we agree they are? Do they only matter as much as the prevailing majority opinion that agrees with them? A 51% rule is a dangerously seductive precept to discover obligational clarity considering human nature is flawed and human agreement fallible. In fact, mere opinion drains words like, “must,” “ought,” and “should” of any command.

There is an intrinsic quality that makes these notions valuable even if the majority of us agreed they were not of value. This intrinsic quality that invigorates the big five must be life, for life is what they are recognized to protect and defend. If the value of life – its aliveness and worthiness, the dignity of “being” – were somehow of no importance in our experience, then the big five would simply not exist because they would not have mattered enough to be discovered, articulated, and recognized repeatedly over the course of history. You can’t have ideas about values, morals, ethics, justice, or rights if there is nothing about life ideally worth protecting by bearing values, morals, ethics, justice, or inalienable rights.        

Since we already feel this “life value” connectivity, it’s reasonable to expect it can be extended to the whole of the human community through empathetic “common humanity” allowing us to protect ourselves, others we care about, and voluntarily choose to protect the life of strangers who cannot protect themselves and even those who might oppose us, our enemies. 

Think about it – if under stressful circumstances, life and death even, we could by Hogwarts powers, or Jedi training, or genie magic, protect everyone involved, would that somehow be offensive to our sensibilities, or our human nature? Of course not. Many might, in fact, agree that recognition, respect, protection, and defense of the life value is the "common sense" aspirations of humanity. 

In Part II, I'll detail the physical requirements that reconcile the ethical with tactical training. 

May 8, 2014


Growing up in a Western culture, along with its values and what not, I seemed to learn a kind of “sports” mentality to the doing and practicing of things. “Practice makes perfect,” I often heard. Later I was told that wasn’t quite right - “Perfect practice makes perfect.” 

It’s well understood that if we’re intent on mastering something we must do it a lot, like, 10,000 times a lot. But there must also be a kind of "perfection" to this repetition, in that, we must do whatever it is we are doing “perfectly” 10,000 times. Here’s the problem: Neither of these can be relied on when it comes to the training of Budo.

I’d say for many things, perhaps even most, this strategy works just fine. A baseball player, provided they wish to be a good player, must hit the ball 10,000 times to get the feel of hitting the ball well. But when it comes to the training of Budo and Bujutsu, this strategy can actually work against us.

The reason why is pretty simple: The baseball player practicing to hit the ball 10,000 times is unconcerned that at any moment and without warning the umpire will pull a knife and stab him. He’s not concerned that as he runs to first base he’ll be shot from the stands with a high-powered rifle. He’s not concerned about these things, and rightly so, because they are not part of the playing of baseball. If the ballplayer misses the first pitch, there is a second. If they miss that, there’s a third. They may even wind up walking to first base.

Because it’s intuitive, it’s easy to understand how we can infuse this kind of "sports" mentality into the training of martial arts. Don't get me wrong, practicing 10,000 times will get you to do that thing more dexterously than you were doing it before. But whether or not that thing will actually be more effective depends on how well we can apply it into the context of training. 

The ballplayer is working within a set of rules and regulations. Provided he understands those things well, he can play the game better. But to that end, what exactly are the rules or regulations in Budo/Bujutsu? The bizarre, banal, crude, charming, and brutal ever-changing reality of life is the only basic “rule” I am aware of that creates the complexity for being able to "play" well as a Budoka.

In other words, the only "rule" I know to be true is this: Change is coming. That is the only constant we can understand. That coming change may be good, bad, or indifferent. But the best response to that unknown is to be spontaneously adaptive in creative, life-preserving, viable ways.

There are plenty of folks that can do the "what" of training - the techniques - and do them very, very well. They should be - they’ve practiced them 10,000 times. This may mean they can perform these techniques under stress, but the bigger challenge is always in creating a viable strategy to overcome life or death challenges when we are using techniques. If we are constantly focused specifically on hitting the ball, instead of hitting the ball in a tactical way - a way that compromises the ump’s chances of stabbing - it may, in fact, contribute to striking out.

We can wind up training this way because we imagine a continuum where sports is at one end and Budo the other. But we should erase this notion that the opposite of sports is martial arts, let alone warrior arts. It is not. Sports are not the opposite of martial arts and just imagining they are can fool us into complacency. 

Sports are real - just like martial arts - but exist in a kind of measured reality – there are rules for winning. So, a more proper opposite would have to be something like a no-holds-barred measured un-reality, akin to video games or “Calvinball” (thank you, Jason), where the rules are made up as you play. To this end, the better opposite of warrior arts and its training is to take its immediate, no-second-chance reality and imagine it in the unreal – coordinated reenactment, movies, plays, and performance. “Faking it” is more properly the opposite of warrior arts and this is the great concern of mixing up our training.

The Budoka’s job is not about being reactive to the conflicts of life with pre-programmed responses. If this is the end goal of training, the Budoka is all but dead. Repetition is important in Budo, but responses must be measured, thus training is geared to seeing, shaping, and even making the tactical space - the creation of a tactical moment. For every one of those 10,000 times we train something, the Budoka must apply it into seeing, shaping, and making the Kukan viable. 

This is literally to “make time” so we can best do the one thing that makes warrior training worth training at all: Recognize our ethic - protect ourselves, protect others, and if possible, even our enemy. 

April 24, 2014

@#$* it! We’ll Do It Live!

Kata are not answers. I don’t view them as a procedural list - they are not a “what to do” series of techniques, but rather a “how to.” 

In studying them we have to be careful not to lose the vitality of what makes them important to begin with. Sometimes I fear they are relied on as an instructional set and “performed” or merely “reenacted.” They should not be. Instead, they ought to be brought to life and made viable.

Kata are tools to ask better questions. As such, they are a wonderful means of spontaneous creativity, a measured study in the efficiency of organization for internal and external alignment, a lesson in the practical to tactical (I like to say “tacticality”), as well as a tutoring in history.  

We had a great session the other night - a brain buster as we took it from the perspective of “method” rather than “technique.” The first thing we did was open the book and look at the notes. We happened to be using Soke’s, Unarmed Fighting Techniques of the Samurai. I handed the book to a student, he paged through it, and picked out Ken Nagare, from the Togakure ryu: 
The opponent comes in to cut down from daijodan with a long sword. Immediately execute the technique for falling face down, and strike the solar plexus with the right fist. Turn to face the opposite direction using the method for falling, turn, and stand. Assume zanshin.
Ukemi in Togakure ryu is a shinkengata, which is about real fighting. We read the notes in English, although I would have appreciated turning to the back of the book to translate Soke’s original notes. As my Japanese is rust-covered, we relied on the English translation. Mind you, we did not allow the translation to dictate our training. We let our Taijutsu do that.

Aww, come on ...
The first go through is intentionally difficult and a mess. As the guys were using fukuro shinai there was a lot of head and body mashing and then the inevitable turn to speed and power to counter said mashing. The result is utter confusion. I like the confusion. It’s a solid way for students to recognize their progress and see just how far they can come once clarity is established. So, we clarify.

First, we looked at the attack. Uke, the swordsman, is trying to lead - shape – the response and options of Tori, the fellow trying not to die by the sword. This involves shaping responses and providing the kinds of options to keep safe and make the opponent less safe. As such, we follow two main rules:

1. Be Honest: Strike as you would strike, not as some generic attacker is “supposed” to. The “uprightness” of honesty here is in being “authentic” of self. In essence, not simply “striking to strike” in the context of training, but instead “striking to kill” because that’s what you would be doing in life or death circumstances. That may involve all manner of crafting your movement so you cannot be denied the kill – leading, maneuvering, whatever.

2. Be Tactical: Only strike in a way that is necessary to insure that honesty. Move in the least amount with maximum results.

The result, if you could not guess, was that Tori failed to “strike the solar plexus with the right fist” so long as Uke didn’t cut like a dummy. In fact, Tori failed miserably, over and over again. It was great. Very good attacks. And exactly where we need to be.

“But wait a minute,” you may be asking, “What’s the point?” If Uke’s attack is so good that its kill cannot be denied, then how are you supposed to “do” the kata? Great question. The answer to it is what makes training kata so valuable to begin with.   

Shaping the body, the cut, and the moment in such a way - an attack with no openings - as to prevent Tori from being able to complete the kata is to recognize and direct us to the challenge of its response. The answer we come to is to the reject the idea of trying to “do” the kata at all, take the sword, wanting to “strike the solar plexus with the right fist,” or whatever.

From a Tori, defender, point of view, we must try to lead Uke by creating a new and better line that they have no choice but to follow. The only way to surmount the terrible odds of a superior weapon and position is to allow them to "kill" you. If they are intent on leading you, we must allow them to do it to their satisfaction. This is the only way to get ahead of them and shape the space, the moment, so their only choice – if they wish to remain honest and tactical – is to do exactly and only exactly what you allow for them so they can fulfill their action. And if, for whatever reason, they do not remain “honest and tactical,” they are easy pickings because this all comes down to who is better at shaping the space (the moment).

The practical of all this is that once Tori understands well positionally where all the mashing, killing, and death is, they can then establish a position where all of that is not. Then, slowly, as Tori and Uke begin to move toward each other, Tori can begin shaping themselves to breach Uke’s “no opening” attack by using the very same strategy Uke is using but with one difference: Self-risk in the form of ukemi or as the kata says, “the technique for falling face down.” How and what this is exactly is something you should discover for yourself through training. Having me explain it defies the point.

By expanding their self-risk, Tori is able to place Uke in a compromising spot. If executed well enough, Uke will find themselves at a crossroad: Either they must attack or retreat. But attacking means compromising their “tacticality” as does retreating – neither option is good, although both seem reasonable. It is at that point, Tori can successfully fulfill the kata, no matter Uke’s choice. In fact, the guys were so successful, that we were able to craft all manner of henka from the original kata and wound up moving in several different but equally successful ways, even at the hands of a continually so-called “no openings” attack.

The successes by Tori were then in stark relief to their frustration of being mashed earlier by Uke’s shinai. Now, in a complete reversal, it was Uke’s turn to be frustrated, for no matter how well they shaped or tried to lead, the moment continually belonged to Tori. The “insurmountable” and “undefeatable” attack was surmounted and defeated, even to the point of playing with and being creative with the manner of its defeat.

Here’s a quick rundown:

1. Establish an honest, tactical attack by Uke shaped to kill Tori that cannot be denied.
2. Establish a safe position for Tori, outside the range of attack.
3. Have Tori maneuver toward Uke incrementally from far to close.
4. Through maneuvering, establish the “moment” at which Tori can gain advantage and shape Uke's attack to deliver the technique in the kata.
5. Shape henka.

Camo jumpsuit - check. Lollypop - check. Headband - check.
Awesomeness - hell yeah.
On a scale of zero to ten, zero being death, ten being the combined ability of every Sho Kosugi character from every Ninja movie he ever made, ever, (BTW you will never be this awesome) try to establish oneself as going not from zero to ten, but from zero to one - possible injury, but not death. The way we compensated for this is by training as if we had armor on, at least, at first.

By bypassing to ten and trying to perform the kata “perfectly,” which in reality means no honesty and no tacticality, folks miss the incremental nature of building and shaping the space because there is essentially no consequences for failure. In other words, (actually those of Shidoshi Kris McKinney) don't let the kata fool you into being dishonest. The more we examined this the more we could understand how to go from “one” to “two” and “two” to “four” and so on. Effectiveness giving way to efficiency.

There was a lot to discover, much more than this - in fact, it made our brains hurt. By not following the “technique,” and instead following the “method,” the principles manifested and the kata went from the page to viability.