July 17, 2016

A Tomato in Fruit Salad?

This piece is in regards to a Facebook post of mine that this gentleman responded to. His response is highlighted here, and mine below. The video we are touching on can be found here:

This is reenactment. I do not believe there are many, if not all bujinkan practioners, who wouldn't walk away from an actual warrior training session in the SCA, bruised and shaking their heads. European martial arts are alive and well, through the SCA, the difference is, these warriors put their martial skills to the test on a regular basis. There is also something wrong with them, they like to get hit with 1 1/4" rattan, once you get hit by it a couple of times, you become desensitized to confrontation. Its funny you posted this. I was just thinking, I need to take the martial skills I've learned in the bujinkan and put them to the test in the SCA. I can think of no better way to test the legitimacy of what I've learned in the bujinkan, but I'm scared to be truthful. Thes guys are savages, when it comes to trying to one up them with martial skills learned somewhere else! I have no doubt, I would leave bruised and bleeding, for some time. And, I'm gettin' old, I bruise and bleed to easy. Hope you are well James. Thanks for the article, if anything else, it provoked a lingering thought in me!

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your thoughts. 

I had actually meant to post this in a private group and must have hit one button over another and here we are - I was tired last night. I don't normally post my thoughts publicly – there’s too much that is lost in translation making it difficult to provide and gain clarity on social media. Most of the time, it seems to me, everybody simply winds up more confused and outraged because we’re too busy making sure we’re heard, instead of wondering if posts or responses are actually merited in the first place, and if they are, thoughtfully so. If everybody really cared about the nature of what they wrote, there’d be a lot less of it.

Take this post, for instance. I didn’t mean for it to be public. I normally have discussions only with people that I know and train with regularly. In doing so, it changes the manner and gravity of one’s thinking and responses for the better, because I never post anything I would not be willing to say face-to-face or stand up for after the fact. Since I don’t know you, train with you regularly, or have any understanding of your relative ability and experience, I’m simply going to post my thoughts and leave it at that.

Nowadays (my editor hates when I use this word, but I’ll use it anyway because it really is true), in our world, and our nation at the moment, but especially in martial arts, it is becoming more and more difficult to identify wisdom from knowledge. In other words, people confuse the one for the other – they confuse the knowing of something for the wisdom it may impart, as if mere existence is the only evidence necessary for its efficacy. This is to suggest that all knowledge is wise, but is actually a devaluation of wisdom. Why this is happening is certainly attributable to the connectivity and speed with with we can know stuff, all kinds of stuff, which can lead to a superficial understanding of it.

However, as anyone who knows the difference between the fact that a tomato is technically a fruit and its actual usage as a food, they avoid placing it into a fruit salad. In the devaluing of wisdom, today’s thinking would have us throw Heirloom tomatoes into a bowel with the various berries, pineapple, oranges, and slices of kiwi because of “knowing” it is a fruit. History and experience (and taste) notwithstanding.

We arrive at wisdom in the martial way when we can apply knowledge, whatever it may be, ethically. That’s how we know the difference. If you are really serious in training the martial way, and for the reasons I suspect you train it, you have to be honest about the answer to this question: are you training techniques to protect and defend life or are training a life to protect and defend techniques? In other words, are you training as a means to an end - the survival/sustainment of life - or as an end in itself - to be “good” at “martial arts”? Context matters. One is not the other. One is wise. The other is knowledgeable. And much like we might marvel at the size of the rising moon and its seeming proximity, the difference between these points is so vast it is often overlooked.

I watched this clip and thought it was interesting and funny. You seem to think it is a manner to best test martial skills. Which skills exactly, I can’t imagine. It’s a game. A roughhousing one played on a field that uses rattan with a crazy amount of flex, padded swords, and plastic armor. Under those conditions, none of that stuff moves or is used in any manner even remotely close to what it is intended to model. But it has to be that way because it’s a game – if any of those tools were even tenuously accurate, people would die.

If you buy into the notion that rough training here equals best training practices, then carry it to its logical conclusion. But crash-up derby does not provide the best training to test one’s defensive driving skills for everyday life any more than slicing open an artery best tests the dexterity of one’s medical and tourniquet skills under stress. There’s a martial arts group that dedicates a good portion of their training time to kicking each other in the nuts, to, you know, toughen them up, or something. Seems backward to me. Perhaps that time would be better spent habit-forming the avoidance of such an attack. And why? Because when you sack your sack, lump your junk, and Bronson your Johnson, it has nothing to do with best practices intended to acclimate and habituate one to viable and sustainable outcomes in life and death conflict. It’s just weird.

There are folks who think that BJJ is the best way to test groundfighting, Judo the best way to test throwing, and Kendo the best way to test swordfighting. But to what end? For viability in the martial way to protect and defend life (an imminently ethical concern), I disagree on all counts. Again, knowledge itself is not wisdom.

BJJ is best for tournament groundfighting, Judo best for tournament throwing, and Kendo best for tournament Kendo because the manner of their training habituates them to perceive and utilize their techniques under those ideal, tournament, conditions. That’s because Judoka don’t have to worry about getting stabbed by a used needle from a methhead in regular training, BJJitsuka don’t have to worry about multiple attackers beating their skull in with a bat in regular training, and Kendoka don’t have to worry about their sword bending or breaking when they clash in regular training. If they did, if every iteration of their training concerned these aspects, if the very notion of their training was embedded and infused with such possibilities, their training as we know it today could not be their training because the idealism with which it is carried out cannot exist in a world with methheads and their needles, multiple opponents and their bats, and swords that bend and break on impact.

None of their training would exist, because none if it could exist under the context of surviving and sustaining, protecting and defending life. It only ever exists under idyllic conditions - variable threats of the world be damned. Imagine a baseball player training to hit a fast pitch, and then trying to do the same while concerning himself with the potentiality that the umpire, or the catcher, or both will set upon him with stabbing weapons until he dies. If that possibility were an actual part of baseball proper, you wouldn’t see baseball anymore, as it would morph into a life-protecting endeavor completely different from the original.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking down any of these arts. I have great respect for them and the level of skill and athleticism they require. All these arts and even the gamesmanship above can be fun and exciting and provide worthwhile time spent with likeminded others for a plethora of good reasons. But one of those reasons is not reliance upon them for the betterment of warrior arts - the context is different. And when we assume the context is the same, because some of the techniques are, we wind up confused. We wind up with a bunch of shit. There’s a reason Michael Jordan didn’t cut it as a baseball player after he retired from basketball. As wise as he was in the one case, he was not equally wise in the other. Why not? Because the ball playing was from a completely different context.

If the touchstone of the folks in the clip was truly survival/sustainment, then the manner of usage would not be what it is. As it is, human crash-up derby is not more sound, or thorough, or rigorous for viable martial concerns, it is less so, because of the context: it’s an idealistic game, and the game dictates the manner of its usage, just like the arts above. It’s not about defending your life or the lives of others, it’s about playing the game. As such, it is not “more real,” or “realistic” because it is rougher. In fact, I would argue there is and can be no such training that is “realistic” at all. None. It does not exist, and for a simple reason: it’s contradictory.

For something to actually be of training use, it must be amenable to the human mind – it has to “make sense” or else no one can try or accomplish it. But the reality of the world and the capricious and variable means by which the violent bring violence has usually little to do with how understandable it is to us, with how much it “makes sense” to us. In fact, psychologically, interpersonal violence often confounds us, which is why most people want no part of it. If it did make sense, training would be a hell of a lot easier than it is. But in the world as it actually is, not the one we want or wish for, the only thing realistic is reality. Only real is real. Period. All our training, everyone’s training, is a well-crafted fiction, and must be for us to gain any understanding of extemporaneous viable change under variable conditions. That’s a lot to take in because training to be competent and ethically so, is really, really hard.

If you want to be better at what you do, try stripping your training down to its component parts: put a wooden knife in the hand of a partner and have them come after you. If you can resist and escape, or at higher levels confront and subdue them, you’re onto something. Techniques must then “fit” into the intervals necessary for any of these opportune moments to be viable. Better yet, have that partner go after someone else with the knife and intervene and defend them from the attack. There is no better means to understand and “test” martial ethics and its tactics than to provide for the safety and security of another.

Context matters. It calibrates, directs, and helps us navigate untenable waters and thus permeates martial endeavor. And it matters so much, it is such an enormous part of what we do and how we are able to do it, that we often overlook it without thinking twice. Like any necessary aspect of our daily existence, like stability before an earthquake, or breathable air, we only appreciate it after it’s become short in supply.

Best to you, and best to you in your training.


June 13, 2016

In the Wake of Tragedy, Train

This post was originally written and posted 12/17/12 after the Sandy Hook massacre, but it is apropos after what happened in Orlando this past weekend. 

How do I deal with gut-wrenching tragedies? Like the horrors of a Sandy Hook? I train.

I drag my questions, my doubts, and fears - specific and non - into the dojo and compound them, let them gang up on me, and even sometimes, let them win. Because in dissecting their victory, I can best plot a trajectory for their defeat.

Last Friday night, the echo of the massacre still loud, we addressed it, talked about it, trained about it. We broke out the Red Guns and worked through various scenarios using the Sanshin, the Kihon, and henka in our armed and unarmed answers. Most importantly, we group-trained to protect and defend others. 

Placing partners in seemingly no-win situations, we crafted viable options for their escape and defense. Bear in mind, when attempting to save someone else, do not count on them to assist - chances are they'll be too traumatized to do much. They may even unwittingly give you away in the process, so in the approach to disarm, one may need to conceal themselves not just from aggressor, but also the victim.

Could we reconcile the crime? Of course not. Some evil cannot be resolved as any tailored answer presupposes the initial question is somehow reasonably answerable. But this highlights the paradox of training itself: memorizing specific answers to questions, like techniques, is not useful when the nature of the question is to continually change. We must instead learn to shape the questions themselves to apply the answers our ability is most able to provide.

So, don't just contemplate horror; that brutal stripping of life often leaves us confounded and inert.

Do something. 

Give your thoughts to the physical: train and teach others to train to protect and defend life.


The post below is non-political and contains no direct solutions, but grants the gift of perspective on such an awful topic:

February 15, 2016

Defending Knife Defense

Last year, in the city of Caloocan, Philippines, north of Manila, a security guard battled a knife wielding former employee in a ninety-second murdermatch. There’s video of it online. Watch it if you want nightmares. To see the guard flail for his life, dying in the very office he was protecting, is like suffocating in fresh air.

A large predator stalking us in the wild is bad enough, but a coworker taking advantage of surprise and fear with a melee weapon until we are dead throws even the battle-hardened into despair. We can only wish swift justice for his killer, who as of this writing is still on the loose. The horror show is grim reminder of the finality to decisions and actions under the stupefying stresses of violence.

This kind of savagery contributes to the ongoing debate of the defense against knives. The camps in argument, combatists and artists. Think of their difference in terms of driving. Artists provide well known, traditional techniques to acclimate drivers to good habits. Combatists concentrate on dangerous potentials, like accidents and emergency maneuvers. They focus on inoculating participants to these possibilities and designing ways to aggressively overcome them in kind.

At least some combatists make a popular claim: there is no dependable way to deal effectively with a knife-wielding opponent and to even try is foolhardy. It’s better to escape than fight. In evidence they point to training scenarios dubbed “traditional” and “real.” They accuse artists of outlandish techniques in the safety of the dojo, when they are clearly overwhelmed by a “real” blitz-type attack. To make their point they screen CCTV of knife attacks, such as Caloocan. Combatists warn that artists are fooling themselves, living in a dream world, and by training unrealistically they’ll only wind up wounded or dead.

There’s several challenges to the combatists’ claim. If knife defense is irresolvable, then why is it part of the DNA of martial training? And for as long as there has been training? How do combatists reconcile a thousand years of martial refinement in which knives and techniques for their defense have held prominent roles is various schools? Why did warriors of old make it a staple in their defensive study? Are we to believe this is a hollow tradition? And why such focus upon the knife? Firearms are far more dangerous. They kill at distance and disproportionately deliver lethal results even when wielded by the untrained. And yet, combatists are not making the same arguments against gun disarming and defense.

Three obvious issues also complicate an escape-only policy in martial concerns: context, tactical options, and viability. Escaping is always a great idea, until it isn’t, like when we can’t escape, like when we must protect someone else. This issue of context is game changing. We may also lose the tactical option to escape if constrained by area or environment, again forcing us to fight. And viability is challenged when escaping actually provides a tactical advantage to an opponent to use the timing of our decisions and actions against us. There are going to be certain cases where we will have to fight no matter what, knife or no knife. Every combatist and artist shares responsibility to recognize this.

But combatists are onto something. Too many artists are afflicted by a common malady known variously as the inflammation of dojo-itus, the code of bullshido, or non-jutsu the ancient and secret art of the nincompoop. They’re all the same thing: the denial and stripping of honesty to idealize training for the purposes of performance.

These standards are not operative in the real world, they exist only in the dojo, where artists can shield themselves behind cultural and traditional affectation. Under these conditions, cooperative training between willing participants can metastasize into reckless enabling to foster confidence in counterfeit skills. In reality, the odds are pretty good these same folks will never use their ability for real-world defense, remaining ever ignorant their skills are lacking. That is, unless they discover, most likely under threat, they are a reenactor rather than a leader. It will be a terrifying moment of clarity.

Truth be told, there’s no controversy regarding knife defense, but there is confusion. Both camps have it wrong and for the same reason: techniques are treated as answers to an opponent’s questions. But questions of conflict should always be answered with even better questions no opponent can answer in time.

Perception is Reality

Every martial endeavor exists to some extent in a dream world. In fact, we must use a dream world of sorts in order to incorporate truths as we understand them into the fictions we design and utilize as training scenarios. Everyone does this, from the hardest hard-charging military special operator to your local taekwondo kids class. Drills, sparring, tactical exercises, even kata, are all accomplished through the use of fiction, as fiction is amenable to the human mind and can make sense to us.

But whereas fiction is a matter of “might be,” truth does not have to be believable, it simply “is.” Facing and enduring the “moment of truth” has more to do with adapting to its pace of change rather than apprehending the exceptionally bizarre or banal examples the human mind can concoct to wage conflict. These examples can literally dumbfound, rendering the moment unintelligible, and protract, even immobilize, any response. Confronted by a knife or gun-wielding opponent is a dumbfounding moment - most folks will simply not believe it’s happening to them. In 2014, Mutahir Rauf, an exchange student from Pakistan attending Loyola University, reached for what he thought was a toy gun when he was mugged here in Chicago mere blocks from campus. He was murdered for it.

This is one of the inherent issues with so-called “realistic” training - it’s paradoxical: scenarios have to make sense or else no one might actually accomplish them. But in making scenarios sensible they defy the validity of the actual, the authenticity of dumbfounding truth, by the very fact they make sense. Thus “realistic” training is as fictional as any made for TV movie because only real is real.

Better to construct training to push students to adapt practiced skills and tactics to the stresses of constant change so as to learn how to make new and better decisions. And it’s only with use of the dream world that we can gain this further comprehension and enrich ourselves deeper to the complexities of our given endeavors. Questions we formulate and ask in training not only enlighten to new answers, they do something even more valuable: provide us the analogical insight to forge better questions. This is parallelism at work and is the underlying strength of the parable, the analogy, of training by context.

January 30, 2016

The Way of the Gun

Recently someone asked for my stance on gun control. It’s the Weaver. 

Jeff Cooper, the father of modern pistolcraft said, “If only one method of shooting is to be learned, it should be the Weaver stance.” I’ll take Pop at his word. My stance on gun control isn’t facetious. It’s the only answer that makes sense.

The Right Tool for the Right Right

You won’t find stats or studies here. I won’t focus on bad guys killed or good guys saved. We’ve reached a “post-political” moment, a time when stats and studies have lost their impact, where truth is bendy, and well-funded orgs can conjure up stacks of data from stacks of experts. 

The clickbait, tragi-comedy outrage of social media is the most popular means to stomp for political and social concern. Feelings are now outside the reach of logic and facts. And the zeitgeist informs that because we partake, opinions have gravitas though woefully misinformed. In this void, only philosophy and its inquiry finds purchase. And to reveal the truth about guns we need only state the philosophically obvious. 

First among the obvious: gun “control” is a metaphor for gun prohibition, the complete disarmament of the populace. This is the true aim of control concerns, where these arguments are rooted, and their logical conclusion. Prohibitors, though perhaps well intentioned, truly believe fewer guns make us safer. They don’t.

A people cannot vanquish their life-protecting tools to the ether and fully embrace their right to life. They cannot do this for a simple reason: any right we cannot defend is not a right. 

Close the courts, retire the judges, fire the lawyers, and strip the laws and see how much freedom is left in the freedom of speech. Schools, universities, businesses, corporations, and governments would scribble rule after rule on speech conduct and unfurl lists of punishments for thought considered unruly. It’s already happening. 

California and New York are prosecuting heresy against companies they believe have lied about the theory of climate change. University speech codes shush students, students shush each other in “safe spaces,” the IRS bullies conservatives, and civil and federal intimidation against the “intolerant” and religious is rampant. Or do you support a $135,000 fine levied by an Oregon “civil rights commission” because Christian bakers refused to partake in an event antithetical to their values? If you do, you’re swinging sledges against the halls of justice. Let's hope those halls are made of tougher stuff. 

There can be no freedom in the freedom of speech if there are no defenses written into law, or courts, or judges, or decisions, or their enforcement—each one of these an exceptional tool—to do the actual defending. And then there is the personal free exercise of speech that must occur to challenge draconian offensives to shut us up. We’re seeing this in action against political correctness as folks denounce the fictions the PC Police are enforcing as truth. 

Under gun controls the right to life is restricted once subject to the policy whims of elites, well protected by an army of guns. These folks actively support the denial of options for personal security to others, such as the less fortunate, that they can often afford for themselves by position, location, and means. In doing so, they restrict the rights of those folks. Chicago has mandated a maddening set of requirements for a concealed carry license that people on the city’s south and west sides—where the violence is worst—cannot reasonably fulfill. Talk about institutional racism. 

If there is no personal right by individual means to defend life or the lives of loved ones with the only capable and dependable technology available today, then there is no right to life itself. 

From Disgruntled Max to Mad Max 

Philosophically, restricting the right to life is to demean the value of life as not worthy of defense. But the value of life is a natural law, actually the Natural Law: the universal sense of obligation to protect and defend one’s life that each and every person experiences naturally, that is, without formal training. To argue against this first inclination as Aquinas put it, or demote its priority, is to argue against the intrinsic dignity humans have for life and its value. Not to be dramatic, but this is to argue against the absolute. It’s to say gravity doesn’t exist or humans don’t breathe air. 

Folks who reject this self-evidence assume wrongly no one will attack them. It’s delusional, like this: 
We should teach men not to rape, instead of teaching women to defend themselves. 
Placing the responsibility for personal safety on everyone else, including authorities, is reasoning as adorable as any "Precious Moments" statuette, but it isn’t serious. Much like the storms of an unpredictable Mother Nature, we must withstand the inevitable storms of human nature, like rape, robbery, and murder. No one living in Flood Grove or Blizzardtown thinks it unthinkable to prepare for such natural disasters. But that’s precisely what many folks have duped themselves into believing about conflict. The inequities of need and the corruptions of desire plague this world. But with enough social justice fingers wagging we can suppress the depravities of the human condition? After that, maybe we’ll change the weather by shaking our fists at the sky. 

Politeness is good manners and etiquette. A practical veneer, we act polite as we want the same courtesy. But polite society is only polite until it isn’t. And in this twenty-first century with all our shiny technology and open-minded thought—so open on certain issues our brains have fallen out—we are just as reliant upon the gun as any crude tool since the dawn of our beginnings, since the wheel, the lever, the heavy rock, the pointy stick. 

Guns are everywhere, even in countries that deny them to their own citizens. Businesses and corporations employ guns. Governments pack heat. Hollywood hires armed bodyguards to protect fragile snowflakes. And yes, even criminals carry to be more efficient in their crimes. And it’s against the law. The nerve.

I agree: there ought to be certain provisions regarding responsible ownership of guns. But this is academic. Blind folks do not get issued driver's licenses. However, to arbitrarily deny, confiscate, outlaw—to nick and stab at the very instruments that best protect a human right—is to diminish and remove access to the right itself. Justice delayed is justice denied. It places life in greater jeopardy under the guise of protecting it.

The kicker is that prohibitionists are not truly against the ownership of guns. They simply cede sole ownership to the government, where complete control of anything is always the best and brightest way to elevate the status of humanity. This was no more apparent than in our last century—the bloodiest on record—where gardens like the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Nazi controlled Europe, tribal Africa, and communist Korea and Southeast Asia all displayed the maturity and wisdom of the ancients in collectively removing continents of people from their status among the living. And the first act in the morality play of all these locales was to disarm the populace. 

So, let’s disarm.  

Say a well-meaning lad snaps into a Slim Jim and wishes Greg the genie to do away with every gun on the planet (and our collected projectile weapon knowhow too, for good measure). Would a gun free world be better off or not? Safer or not? 

Right now, chaos is sweeping the Middle East by a JV team called ISIS. I’m guessing the loss of gun technology might slow them down, but only long enough to sharpen knives, or machetes, or a jagged, rusty hubcap they could pick up and swing. 

As guns and their memory vaporize, pandemonium would erupt across the planet. We are thrust back into the ancient world where the most aggressive and power mad among us—a small number to be sure—plows communities asunder with nothing to oppose them except the Mad Max gizmos of any defender. Whole peoples would join the aggressor’s reign rather than stand opposed and their ranks would grow exponentially. Here in Chicago, fear programs a “code of silence” in gang-infested neighborhoods where “snitches get stitches” and nine-year-olds are executed.  

Within a month of said wish, good folks across America hide in their basements, hammering spikes through bats as the bravest among us scavenge local 7-11s for any sign of a Slim Jim to recall the genie and wish the nightmare away.      

This hypothetical is a macrocosm of interpersonal violence between those who harm and who are harmed. The truth is that the ruthless, dehumanizing madness of the ancient world has not been stopped, committed, and locked away, it’s loose, running rampant, displayed any time innocent life is threatened, harmed, or murdered for the capricious and disturbing wants of ferocious and sadistic people. 

Every rape, robbery, and murder is in affect and effect the Visigoth sack of Rome, the Mongol siege of Baghdad, the fall of Constantinople, a return to the medieval pall of the Dark Ages. Philosophy, religion, and education, the tempering of values toward human rights and the rule of law, eventually pulled us from that abyss. Science and technology have held the line against our going back. Only now, gun controllers want to toss the prescriptive rights and specified tech that so much blood was spilled over generations to acquire, that have safeguarded prosperity so it could prosper. 

A group hug didn’t end World War II. Bombs did. And for better or worse, at least they put an end to the appalling loss of life from a war instigated for appalling reasons. Perhaps anti-gunners know a way, heretofore unknown, of controlling human viciousness. But even in prison, where needs for food, shelter, healthcare, recreation, and safety are all carried out in a 100-percent gun-free environment, the violent still control the violence. 

There isn’t a decent person alive who does not wish to live in a disease-free world. But we can’t aspire to that by denying reality, like refusing to be vaccinated, or propagandizing vaccines as proliferating disease, instead of recognizing them as the only viable personal defense in an unpredictable and brutal world. 

Want to minimize risk? Live inside a bubble. But don’t think you’ve removed the threat. You and yours still live in the world. And in this world, the world as it is, not the world we imagine or wish it to be, it’s not an option to protect ourselves without the way of the gun. 

Kill It! Kill It with Fire!

Part of the confusion regarding guns is the glut of information we now live with that makes it spectacularly easy to discover and embrace knowledge, even fraudulent or debunked, as original and wise. This contributes to the march of this little thing called nihilism as a popular way to perceive the world, because when anything can be a priority, nothing—no one thing—is expected to be. Not even the stuff that’s actually important. 

Gun control is just the kind of knowledge so many embrace as wise. But wisdom comes when we can properly recognize, reason, and judge how to act upon knowledge ethically. Nihilism morally equivocates in entirety, it devalues values, stating there are no good or better concerns to be concerned about. Prices are slashed on every belief to their cheapest: mere opinion. This faith in anythingness would have us believe there’s no difference between the living and the dead; that this fundamental dichotomy is just a matter of perspective, at least, amongst the living.

This is ethical ambivalence. In our selfie-satisfied culture it’s mistaken for the virtue of grace or some sort of noble thoughtfulness, rather than what it rightfully is, utter confusion. And in that confusion we cede rights and liberty, ultimately ceding even the value of life as evidence to the contrary. 

So like a sparkly vampire that keeps rising from the dead, moral relativism, political correctness, or post modernism is all disorientation from truth. Stake it through its black heart, festoon it with garlic, coffinate, and rebury it in consecrated earth. Because eventually the wooden stakes will rot and the garlic will weaken. And these seductive forces will reconstitute under some new banner of “progress” for the “greater good.” 

And note: gun controllers are fully aware they’ve lost this debate and are repackaging arguments under the banner of “gun safety” as in, “Let’s save and protect more lives.” Ever an appeal to the Natural Law. You remember the Natural Law as that which indicates we require protection and defense in the first place. 

So when you next articulate your stance on gun control, remember … the shooting side leg shifts to the rear when drawing in the Weaver, but not so far back as to lose your balance.

January 6, 2016

Under the Blade 2016

Shinnen Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!

Much gratitude to all those who made 2015 a fantastic year!

2015 Gasshuku
We had terrific training, a great Gasshuku, and memorable Bonenkai. And our dojo is growing! We have new students, new digs, and new locations. We now have affiliates in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico, run by Shidoshi-ho Jason Cather and Edan Dalsheim-Kahane, respectively.

The Bujinkan Shingitai-Ichi Dojo is now located across northern Illinois: in Chicago at several different locations, Downers Grove, Palatine, and Rockford. We are also additionally out of state in Caledonia, Wisconsin, Los Angeles, California, and even across the pond in London, England!

Let’s keep going, everybody—we’ll make it!


Some of you may have noticed my blog KOSSHI has been oddly quiet. There’s been no recent posts or musings, no smarmy anecdotes concerning life on the martial trail or otherwise.

A-Ha! James has run his trap so much he’s out of things to say!


Those that know me, know. Don’t get me started on the government, or our nonsensical social trends, or even the new Star Wars, for the matter of that (a decent outing, but a little too safe for this fanboy).

The silence is by design. I’ve been developing a book with the folks at YMAA for publication. You know YMAA as the publisher of such works as “Meditations on Violence,” by Rory Miller, whose same editor I have been assigned, and “Fight Like a Physicist,” by Dr. Jason Thalken, number one on Amazon.com recently in the subject of martial arts.

I can’t say much more than this—even the title’s a secret—but I am very excited about this next chapter.

Theme for 2015

This past year our dojo’s training focused on the Shugoshin, a concept embodying the “Protector Ethic” to shape ourselves toward the virtues of the protector and train across a hierarchy of outcomes, from escaping to confronting and subduing opponents.

This perspective shifted the importance of training from a technique orientation to one of context, a far clearer way to activate and understand our own ability. We also concentrated on bojutsu and its inherent structure to extrapolate higher teachings regarding Taijutsu in general.

It was a heady year, but I think the work did us good. I have a far better take on these ideas than when I first introduced them a year ago. In fact, what I learned is set to be our focus for the coming year.  

Theme for 2016 

The “basics” will be our training theme for 2016. Great! Everybody studies the basics, right? Sure, but what or which basics are we exactly talking about? There’s a larger concept here: is there a way, a manner to discern true basics?

Most folks speak of the basics as given sets of techniques and tactics. But this is a debatable, vast, and varied lot depending on how one might quantify and categorize it. Even the use of the term “basics” seems out of place as it’s more likely to describe requisite elemental techniques of the art that uniquely define it as what it is.

However I’m reaching for the spirit of the word derived from “base,” and has come to mean “foundation.” I’m talking actual basics here, not simply the vehicle’s nuts and bolts, but its principles of combustion. This is the stuff that we absolutely cannot do without, where anything less than a firm grip precludes us from understanding anything more. Is there a particular set of basics that we must, ought, and should know first and foremost before we know anything else? I think there is.

The material basics I have in mind are what I consider to be formally necessary as a set of first steps to knowing and exploring Taijutsu, or the martial way in general, and its Protector Ethic. I have several ideas that I will detail throughout the year, four specifically, regarding health and physicality.

And as last year, we’ll be using Bojutsu as a catalyst for deeper study, so sand and oil up those rokushakubo, jo, and hanbo for some graduate level training. If you need a little refresher on the concepts, check out “Taijutsu is Bojutsu is Taijutsu.”

Lastly …

Technology and social media has changed the way we see ourselves. And due to the human condition’s failing for ravenous curiosity that too often flaunts the temperate and prudential cautions that are meant to keep it from harming itself, tech has become the MacGuffin so many seek to control.

In doing so, tech has spiraled exactly out of our control, so rapid has been its advance, leaving many ignorant to its impact and Pollyanna in cyber actions. We roam, speak, and do online that which we would never visit, say, or act in real life. It’s making us all weird.

Worse, this immaturity is getting the best of us, estranging and hardening hearts in forums and conversation threads in tech’s use as a caustic sword and a shield that lures toward anonymous activity. And make no mistake, anonymity is a perversion of the self, for when we believe we've a shield from the consequences of behavior, we are numbed to any responsibility for the sword.

As this occurs we can expect greater introversion and social awkwardness, less tolerance and compassion between even like peoples, and less patience to deal with a given day’s obstacles be they manmade or natural, since the real world moves at the pace of the real world, not an iMac.

In due time, the sickest among us will have even their sense of personal autonomy diminished as their living reality inverts for their online one. And then we’ll encounter yet another “marginalized” group seeking victimhood status and special treatment for their own willful behavior when they can no longer function outside the confines of a virtual experience.

In short, we can expect more conflict.

Conflict is inevitable between groups of people, even friends. When values clash, conflict ensues. This can occur when folks hold different values or when differing experiences lead to understanding similar values in differing ways.

To mitigate conflict and resolve values in dispute requires sober effect. It requires people to take responsibility for themselves and others. At the highest levels of that ability, it requires us to have sympathy, kindness, and even forgiveness for the carelessness of others.  

Typing words on the net is to fling them into an abyss, much like shooting a gun. Trying to retract those words after the fact is like trying to rescind the bullet shot. There’s no safety in a keyboard, it’s but a blunt instrument that refines or debases, a pallet of creative force that appeals or repulses with every creation. Each of us must choose which.

Yelling from the shadows of the virtual divide only causes confusion. Perhaps that awesome retort to your peer’s misinformed and misguided post or comment is better left unsaid or said better when in their company. I never “Share,” “Like,” or write anything online I am unwilling to stand behind and articulate as I grip and shake the hand of the person I believe needs to listen to it. Meeting and speaking directly with others calms us and elevates our prose as we understand and are understood—you know, communicate—in real time. Tech is fast making this person-to-person-ness as rare as any superpower, much like martial ability itself.

We have trained, sweat, and bled together and have always shook hands before and afterward. We have shared our stories and our experiences over drinks to talk shop. In training and under stress, we lay hands on others and deal with hands laid on us—a diminishing skill among a withdrawn and alienated populace. Thus, we should not be as susceptible to such online seductions. Petty squabbles turn us small. And the smallness of character is often the root of that which is petty.

Reclaim words like “gentleman” and “honorable” as we deal with one another off the mat. If you have issues with someone, don’t raise them online, take it up with them. Meet with them. Say it face-to-face. Grip their shoulder, shake their hand, and remember the kind of person they are in training (or at least the kind of person you are). Then say your piece if you truly believe it needs to be said. Careful and meaningful choice of words civilizes conversation for clarity, which creates the opportunity to change one’s mind. If clarity is not what you’re seeking, re-examine your motives.

If you cannot refrain from or cannot forgive invective because feelings, perhaps you shouldn’t be training. Perhaps the level-heading, fair-mindedness training imparts is lost upon you because you have misunderstood its greatest lesson: Being human is to have values, but valuing human being is to know what is essential to feeling, thinking, and acting upon them ethically.

This is the message of martial training. Let us all make certain we're receiving it.

Prodesse Quam Conspici

We are part of an extraordinarily small group of like-minded individuals—there are certainly not enough of us. We train physically to change the way we feel, think, and act. We train because good people who want to be better people, get trained. Training oneself in the ways of human conflict, arguably the most phobic aspect of human existence, is the best way to improve as a person.

In Old English, to “improve” something was to “emprofit” it. Old French meant it obliquely as “proud,” “brave,” and “valiant.” This came from the Latin, prodesse, “to be useful” in one’s essence beforehand. Esse is more Latin, where “essential,” ingredients of character, comes from. Prodesse Quam Conspici: Be known by one's achievement, not by one's claim.

To improve is to strengthen one’s character through feeling, thinking, and acting by what training informs us is inescapably, universally, and unquestioningly valuable to the human experience.

Share it, mentor it, and teach it as a protector of self and others.

Make 2016 your best year yet!