February 26, 2015

Stop Teaching Cops "Ethics"

This week we were treated to a steady drip of complaints and lousy reviews from New York's finest regarding their newest ethics training in the aftermath of the Eric Garner tragedy.

The New York Post reported several stories from officers sitting (and sleeping) through eight-hour lectures, cultural-sensitivity training, being told to "take a deep breath" and close their eyes during tense situations, and even watching clips from the Patrick Swayze movie "Road House" to teach them to "be nice."

Look, can we please stop teaching cops "ethics?" Please? Teach ethics, by all means. Just stop teaching "ethics" 'cuz it's being done exactly backwards.

Most philosophical ethics are taught from a standpoint of clinical examination, like some forensic autopsy, instead of from the impassioned plea of virtue. God forbid we should actually hold a standard for the moral compass - let alone a universal one - and challenge ourselves to act better than we have. What a scandal!

We need not teach police "how to ethic" - they are all perfectly capable of acting ethically. Don't talk down to them, remind them of all the "sensitivities" that surround their charge, or finger wag in their direction.

Cops study the law, are trained to know what is and is not just under it, and despite what popular internet memes say, most cops do join the force to "serve and protect" their communities. So stop with the morally relative, mumbo jumbo some PhD brainio thinks is dispositive of enlightened authorities.

For cops - or any of us, for that matter - to be able to act more ethically under stress and with the confidence to lead those in conflict, with you or others, means training to have higher competency in one's physical capabilities. Period. Want better cops? Forget the eight-hour lectures and technology to "fix" them - cops don't want to wear body cameras any more than you do where you work and for the same reasons. What's next? Chips in their brains? Train officers in a physical methodology to think, speak, and act with universal convictions and they will be better.

The Marine Corps figured this out - every Marine is both a rifleman and a martial artist, from the recruit to the commandant. Their Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is a sound strategy for generating the very kind of character and individual confidence required for leadership with the mindset, "No greater friend, no worse enemy."

Large metropolitan police agencies with thousands of officers would do well to model themselves in similar fashion - every cop a policing officer and an expert in conflict mitigation and physical defense. This means training officers consistently (at least twice a week on the job) in the very kind of personal martial tactics that can allow them the physical confidence to be more ethical in their conduct and authority.  

In their (too often short) stint of "Defensive Tactics" training, police officers are taught a bushel of techniques to use when in conflict. But the problem with this was stated eloquently by Mike Tyson, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."

Technical blueprints are not as important as being able to form a plan and then adjust it under the conditions. Martial techniques are too often treated as straight answers to questions that rightfully have none. Sorry, but the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is not 42 no matter who says it. Variable conflict is like that - no straight answers.

Cops require a method to form viable, life-sustaining, tactical habits and must be trained in it consistently in order to achieve its intrinsic benefits. But - and here's the secret - those sound tactical habits must come from deference to universal values (natural law), which when recognized always achieve the one thing everyone - cops, civilians, and criminals - can appreciate: respect for the value of their life. This has to do with exactly how we use our bearing, attitude, and physical confidence, including body language, for they directly impact whether situations worsen or de-escalate due to our presence and actions. A firm knowledge of human nature always provides an edge to those who would deal with its turbulence.

Academics, too often adrift in moral relativism, generally scoff at their existence, but universal values (such as the natural law's value of life) are not the stuff we all agree are "good," or even "good ideas," but the stuff we know we cannot deny without denying our own nature, of what it means to be human. Smarty pants often like to counter that natural law is only a theory of the human condition. But it is only a theory in the same regard gravity is only a theory.

Respect for these universals lead to the ethical (and lawful) tactics that save and defend lives. In other words, a respectful acknowledgment for self-and-others' worth - aside from personal or criminal behavior - leads to the formation and use of tactics to keep cops, civilians, and even criminals safer, whether that's giving out a ticket, assisting those in need, or firing a duty weapon to save, protect, or defend innocent life.

Now, officers that read this piece prior to publication were concerned that the terrible bureaucracy in metro departments would never allow for this kind of substantive training regimen, which they believed was worthwhile. But if the Marine Corps - beset by their own bureaucratic and political structure - could transform themselves then this is not like walking on the sun.    

The work of Resolution Group International (of which I am a member) addresses these training issues. RGI was recently the subject of the New Jersey Trentonian, where they highlighted RGI's work at a recent certification course.

Police forces would be wise to consult with RGI (as many already have) for clarity on the systemic problem of conflict ethics and solutions to (re)empowering our police officers to vitalize their communal sense of "serve and protect" so that their personal behavior serves and protects them just as well.

February 19, 2015

Why Train?

Some years ago I traveled to the west coast for training at a weekend event. 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 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 folks watching. I probably wanted them to think I was a possessor of great skill.

I remember that moment as well as I remember the next: turning to my protectee to acknowledge their safety, only I couldn’t find them. 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.”

A teacher, mentor, and friend - Jack Hoban - arranged the fiasco to occur. He had nothing against me, he was simply taking advantage of the chance to teach a larger lesson. And I have never forgotten the 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 bias toward my own ability to serve up 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 about attacking an attacker. It was about defending the person I was supposed to safeguard. It was about protecting their life. It was about being a protector.

After all my years of training and experience one might think 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.

One of the great confusions of our modern day is ambivalence of the moral-physical fundamentals of the martial way. It usually takes the form of confusion toward the single most important question for any martial artist, aspiring or professional: why train? There are many reasons people concoct to study the martial way, but any of them inevitably travel full circle to the originating purpose behind the ancient conception and ageless refinement of the martial arts: protecting self and others.

Every individual ought to embrace and endure the martial way for some period of their life, if only to reveal the profound effect its skills and philosophy empower our sense of internal self-worth. And what is more, and more important frankly, is its ability to activate a habit-formed behavior, a “protector ethic,” to stand up and defend ourselves and others who might not or cannot stand up and defend themselves. The clarity of this protector ethic is by far the most important lesson of martial expression and for a simple reason - it puts every other lesson in context: protecting others is to protect oneself; protecting self and others is to protect the value of life.

There is no technique or martial concept, and likewise, no philosophic value, including political or religious, that demands conscientious study if it does not do the one thing required for any designation of viable truth: 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 their life, if at all possible. And within the philosophic realm, the value of life is the true source of normative vitality and relevance for all manner of metaphysical "ought-ness." For what else exists that has the power to make sacred our highest conceptions of earthly human values, including morals, ethics, justice, and rights? What good would any of these notions be if they were twisted to violate and ravage, existing in contradiction to the existence and dignity of human “being?”

Martial training reveals, clarifies, and ultimately allows us to recognize and embrace these most basic and fundamental motivating inclinations and necessary protections that are universal for humanity and epitomized within the expression known as “Natural Law.” Apprehending these two halves – our foundational natural ethic and the physicality to enable one to protect it morally - empowers internally for the good of our own self-respecting autonomy and externally for actions taken in defense of dignity for ourselves and for others.

The protector ethic is nothing short of a willingness to risk our own self-worth to protect and ensure the self-worth of others. In this regard, to train ourselves martially is to train ourselves virtuously to become the brighter, kinder, and just person we all know we ought to be.

February 12, 2015

When They Come Back

My wife is Japanese. And anyone who has a Japanese wife knows that they must, under all circumstances, be able to shop for Japanese food. It's like a survival imperative or something. The human will has been genetically engineered through eons of edge of death hardship to cultivate the very spirit of man's value for life and the Japanese wife must get her konnyaku (yam cake), so we can poop right. (The stuff moves through you like a train riding an avalanche made of buffaloes. Those who know are nodding wide-eyed with respect right now.)

Hey, this is serious stuff. And I hereby approach it with all great seriousness, especially because my wife reads my blog. So, this is me, serious.

I've been shopping at Mitsuwa - a Japanese themed grocery and market - since before it was Mitsuwa. It used to go by the name "Yaohan," but that's going back some twenty years, at least. Ours sits in the burbs away from the city, so it's a bit of an adventure every time we go especially with weekend traffic. Just recently we went to get more poop cake. I mean, konnyaku. Serious.

Anyway, we pull into the lot and park. The place is in Arlington Heights, a nice, typical Midwestern suburb that's about as exciting as peach salsa - 'cause it's salsa, but, like, peach and stuff, and when you try it you're like, "Huh, peach." Yeah, it's like that.

So, we get out and a large white truck pulls up right behind us, stops, and the driver starts talking. I can't quite make what he's saying, but he's animated, and pointing to my truck, and I think this is weird.

I take one step closer to him, which still keeps me a good 10 feet away, and say, "Huh?" Although I was more polite, like, "'Scuse me?" And he says, "I can pound those out!" He means the dents in the rear of my car. See, I have dents in the rear of my car because an asshole driving a moving truck hit my car and put dents in it. I've had them for years and quite frankly think it gives my car a little thing called attitude. And now, White Truck Guy is apparently soliciting their removal. He's a mechanic, he says. I nod. And yes, it's weird to be solicited for auto body repair in the parking lot of my beloved Mitsuwa. If that was, in fact, what he wanted.

I raise a hand and thank him, but no-thank him. And he motions me over to his big white truck, as if I need more convincing, as if he's now going to try a better argument than the "I'm a mechanic, I can pound those dents out" one, which got him bupkis. White Truck Guy keeps talking, but having already given the "no thank you" hand wave, I turn back to my car and my wife and the matter of gathering our poop cake. Konnyaku!

The stinky natto or the really stinky natto? Decisions ...
We enter Mitsuwa and stay for, like, two hours - they've got a bookstore and a food court and a huge grocery, so it's not like we're the OJ jury arguing which brand of poop cake we should buy, because there are other pressing matters, like which brand of natto - fermented soybeans which act, taste, and smell like melted foot cheese - we will get. So, there's that too. Serious.

Finally, we leave. Bags in hand. And its always the same for her, like we're leaving behind a long lost sibling that's rotting in prison for a crime they didn't commit and we're working on an escape plan, because we know they shouldn't be there to begin with, and god only knows what happens to them on their own.

We pack the car. She sighs; looks longingly over her shoulder and eventually gets in - it's like "Sophie's Choice," for god's sake. I am now climbing into the car, when I notice in my driver-side mirror that the very same white truck and White Truck Guy has pulled up again more than two hours later. 

This time he's blocked us in - he's positioned his truck directly perpendicular to the back of mine so I can't pull out - and he's motioning to me to get out of the car and approach his. Maybe he wants to lay his new fangled "dent" argument on me that he's been practicing for the last two hours.

My mad face.
This makes me mad.

I rarely get mad at strangers, I generally don't give myself the chance to, but when you come at me sideways, like this guy did, when you act weird - solicit business in a parking lot to strangers - and do so provocatively and persistently, purposely hiding your real intentions that could potentially harm me and a loved one - my most loved one, my wife - yeah, I get mad.

Now, maybe the guy was totally legit. Maybe he was a young up and coming local mechanic just trying to make a name for himself and if I would only give him a chance he could do some great work for me. Fine. I totally accept the possibility of that actually being the case.

But what is also actually the case was that I heard him the first time. Clearly. And I said no. In fact, I said, "I appreciate it, but no thanks," with a "real" smile, not "Get away from me, you douchebag." So in this moment I saw no legitimate reason as to why he would come back. Yet, here he is.

Natto. Go throw up now.
The only flutter of motive I thought of was pride. Pride to the fact he had failed with me the first time and was now bound and determined to see this through, whatever his end game was.

And so he pins us in and motions to me to get out and chat. So, I did what any level-headed, trained philosopher would do. I started the car, threw it into reverse, and jammed on the gas.

The car reared like a linebacker at the snap straight for his white truck. And the young man did exactly what I knew he would do - hastily throw his car into reverse to avoid mine. (Can't pull auto body biz in grocery store parking lots in a dented car, right?) We then left straightaway and I would call Police to report his ass.

The way I see it, I gave him a pass the first time around. He came to me acting strange, hiding his real motives. Instead of calling him out and confronting him - ramping up conflict - I gave him a pass. Hey, we had poop cake to buy.

But then, he came back. And once he came back it was game on. A game I had no intention of giving him a chance to make a play in. Now, I know nothing of sports, but that would be like throwing a ball at the last yard line in like, a really important (maybe most important) football game or something, when you have a perfectly capable running guy (running back?) who has always managed to score into the end place under those very conditions and you choose not to use him. Right. That would just be stupid.

Now, I'm off to the bathroom. My train is here.

February 5, 2015

The "Golden Rule of Combat"

I can't remember the first time I saw this, perhaps as a lad thumbing through George Kirby's volumes on "Jujitsu," but I didn't think much of it at the time. I came across it again recently, only this time it was called the "golden rule of combat" and was supposedly from an old book by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.
The Golden Rule of Combat
Your most powerful weapon, applied to your opponent's greatest weakness, at his time of maximum vulnerability.
Of combat!!
The helpful paraphrase of it, "Our best shot at his weakest point when he's least ready." 

I tell ya, it all sounds great. Most powerful weapon, weakness, maximum vulnerability - all the right and good and right stuff. But I'm gonna disagree with it. Not because I think it's wrong, or even because I don't think it's right enough - surely there are folks who will testify to its truth. 

I don't care for it because it perceives things exactly backwards, like looking into a mirror looking at the world - we experience it as an image of reality instead of reality itself. If we aren't clear about what is actual, then we can't be clear about how to deal with it. That's when goals in training get misguided because what we value most ought not be most valued. We wind up with a defensive strategy that doesn't hold up under stress. If we're placing technique at the top of our list, whether that's memorization or most powerful weapon we'll wind up confused. Like a pyramid on its head, it's not that we can't find the balance, it's that it's too easy to tip over.

First off, I'm not certain what my "most powerful weapon" is - first guess, morning breath. If I think tactically, it's my ability to create opportunities I can take advantage of. That may very well involve a right cross or front kick, but I'll only know that at the time of use due to the conditions I'm under. What's clearly more valuable than a personal WMD is creating a moment, any moment, I can exploit to destroy an opponent's ability to position and gain leverage upon me, whether that involves weapons or no, not merely waiting for the chance to throw my "hammer."    
I also don't know what my opponent's greatest vulnerability is. Under the spontaneous conditions of conflict, I don't know if they have weak shoulders, bad knees, or a heart condition. An opportunistic vulnerability is just that - opportune. And let's be honest, using my "most powerful weapon" against a "greatest vulnerability" may not actually do a goddamn thing since "most powerful" is a relative term and may not actually be powerful at all. 

But here's the most telling part: at his time of maximum imbalance. His time? Sounds like I'm to wait for his imbalance. By the time we recognize imbalance, it's already too late - they'll correct before we ever get a chance to exploit it. So why isn't this notion on "my time" instead of "his time?" Let's not understate clarity: this notion ought to be in reference to me since I'm the one to dictate it to the opponent - that's the only way it's big enough to see and long enough to actually take advantage of. 

Writing my own "golden rule," I'd start and end with "time" as in "timing" as in the "interval." The interval is the discontinuity between what the opponent has actually done, their action, and what they want to do, their intention and the requisite tactical maneuvers we take in that space. Remember, fights don't start with a first strike, fights start from the position to strike first. So if we're using an OODA loop to map this out, the interval would be between "act" (the last part) and "observe" (the first part) - conflict does not consist of just one OODA loop, but a cascading series of them.  

At the very least, let's flip it: 
When he's least ready, (strike) his weakest point, with your best shot. 
Already sounds better to me - cleaner because it follows how we actually need to operate and clearer simply because we oriented first for time, the moment of action. The interval needs to be first, since in reality it always comes first - "timing is everything" because time is the space for action to occur. 

Let's refine:
When he's made least ready, target any weak point, with capable technique. 
Now we're active instead of passive, making him less ready instead of waiting for him to be such. We make less ready by our maneuvering in the interval.  

When he is made to move against an a opportunity we have created, exploit a weakness in his position, with techniques that cannot be countered or stopped.
Okay, now we're in deep, making him least ready by giving him a golden opportunity he simply can't pass up and targeting the weaknesses inherent in his actions in moving against us. If we take advantage of a weak point and ride it, whatever technical means we are using become increasingly difficult to counter or stop provided we know how to apply them that way.  

Better still: 
Lead the opponent by his motives to take advantage of a created vulnerability, shape his resulting action in the interval between what he wanted and what he has instead been made to do, and take advantage of his ensuing action with proportional techniques that cannot be denied their use.
Expose his motives by your vulnerability - an opportunity for us, since now we can be sure of what he will do - and take advantage of the physical contradiction formed - what he wanted is not now what he has been made to do because we're still maneuvering and he's following us. The context of our conditions is key as it dictates response and continued maneuvering gives us advantage providing we have the training to shape the moment to that end. Our technique is then simply a matter of judging the degree of necessary proportionality under said conditions to achieve the outcome we need and/or want.  

Initiate his motives by self-risking, create a physical contradiction between what he thought and what actually is by re-positioning, and when he attempts recovery, exploit that weakness with just enough leverage to undo his original motive completely and achieve our contextual outcome.
By initiating our ethic, the timing of our motivating values - maybe we just want to escape this person or protect another - we also initiate the opponent's action by their motive. In short, we lead by giving others the example we want them to be led by. Conflict resolution is a matter of displaying leadership under stress, whether that's with your team at work or stacked odds in a violent street encounter. Creating opportunities that opponents can be lured by is the surest means to defeat them - humans have only been doing this in hunting and fighting since the dawn of time. Trapping someone inside the midst of their own mistake often forces them to extricate themselves from that mistake first before returning to the fight with us - a costly move. For that action alone is enough to cause an opening to appear so they can be undone and we can achieve our desired outcome by context, whether that's escaping, interceding on another's behalf, or subduing for control or arrest. 
Initiate, (re)position, leverage, apportion.
Contextual ethics - the initiative of our motivating values, like self-and-others protection. 
Acuity of tactical opportunities - positioning in the space. 
Leveraging the interval - contradiction is the shield for shaping viability of action.
Apportionality of technique to achieve our ethic - escape, resist, extract, intercede, confront, subdue.

Ethic. Acuity. Viability. Apportion. In cascading series.

Or, if I want to be clever:  

Shin. Gi. Tai. Ichi. 

Whew ...