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!