Friday, July 5, 2019- Cobra Kai
“I am not a god. I am a man, just like you.” -Grandmaster G.K. Todd
Sometimes the lessons we learn come from the most unexpected places. I often relate to my students that my teaching method is unorthodox. Rarely do I approach each class with a thoroughly designed, well-planned lesson for the training session. Quite the contrary. Usually, I have a general idea of what we need to cover which is influenced on the flow of the class. It is equated to the idea of travel. I may be travelling from New York City to Los Angeles. I know my beginning point and my ultimate destination. How I get there, well, that is a different matter.
I point this out because even as instructors and teachers, we are constantly learning. I will admit it…. I am a movie and TV nerd, and tonight I finally got around to catching up on the Cobra Kai series. There were a couple of scenes that really brought out a lesson my instructor had taught me once, which directly correlates to the quote he offered, which I shared with you above. In the series thus far in Season 2, Sensei Johnny Lawrence and Sensei John Kreese have moments in which they are seen as vulnerable. They express to their top students weaknesses and failures they have endured, and that to a large degree still haunt them over time. Taking these two characters and their personas of iron at face value, this was significant not only for the series, but also for ways in which we as martial arts teachers relate to our students.
Relating back to how I saw my teacher, it was as if I stood in awe of him. It was as though he could do no wrong, even though at times I saw behaviors and mannerisms in him that were somewhat off putting. This is similar to how Lawrence and Kreese are viewed by their students such as Miguel at certain points in Season Two. Despite these human characteristics, I still saw him as a martial arts master and as a sage. My trust in him is unwavering and without question after 22 years. I would trust him to make end of life decisions on my behalf. But over the years as we have grown close outside of the dojo, I have come to know him not as a martial arts master, but as a human being. A flawed, yet beautiful, human being. The interactions between Kreese, Lawrence, and Miguel in Cobra Kai resonated with me based on my own experience. It was a teachable moment.
As teachers, we must be cognizant that in certain cases we may be seen in the same way we saw our teachers in the past. I will admit from my perspective that is hard for me to comprehend and accept. It is unfathomable that someone could look at me in the same way I looked at my teacher. I simply do not believe that I could ever occupy that position as a martial artist or as. A man. But then, I have to go back to what he taught me. He is a man, not a god.
As teachers, one of the most important lessons we can teach our students probably will not occur in the dojo or on the mat. It will occur in life. It may occur at lunch, over coffee, or in my case, when I was confronting the death of my father. My teacher allowed me to grieve in his presence while teaching me that I was placing my emphasis on who my father truly was in the wrong perspective. Yes, my dad was a man in a physical sense. But like him, and my instructor, we are so much more than the physical bodies we inhabit.
What does Season Two of Cobra Kai have to teach those of us who teach students on a daily basis? Admittedly, I am only halfway through the season as of this writing, but a colossal lesson is ripe for the picking. As teachers, we must let our students see us as vulnerable, and therefore human. We stumble, just like they do. We fail, just like they do. We rise from the ashes of those failures, just like they do. We are just a little further along the path than they happen to be.
As a teacher of the martial arts and self-defense, whatever your discipline happens to be, look around you. We can extract lessons to impart to our students from virtually any aspect of our life. Even a television show.
Friday, June 28, 2019
When we teach corporate clients, I usually begin the course with a few disclaimers, one of them being the admonition to examine closely what I say about law enforcement and their involvement in situations that are scrutinized as potential self-defense cases. I put this out there because much of what I say may come across at first as a criticism if not an outright slander. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I used to work within that world. But at the end of the day, my job, and sole responsibility, is to be forthright with my clients and students. Often, that means that the actions, policies, and culture of the criminal justice system as a whole must be placed under the looking glass of professional and academic criticism. So, as you read on, keep this in mind.
Yesterday before class I was talking to a friend of mine that had witnessed a breaking and entering and subsequent larceny over the weekend. As he related the tale to me, he seemed perplexed by something that was said to him. He was asked if he had confronted the two suspects, and if he had not, he was admonished to stay away from them in order for law enforcement to take any needed action. At first glance, this seems reasonable. Right? Or, is there a broader social issue that underlies this story?
When law enforcement arrived, my friend related that there was unfortunately not a lot they could do, even though he had relayed the license plate number to the emergency dispatcher and had given the officers a detailed description of the perpetrators along with their direction of travel. He was frustrated. This gave me time to reflect on issues such as these from a self-protection perspective.
As a society, we have relinquished the responsibility for our own safety and the protection of our families, property, and communities to a source that has at its disposal the legal mandate to act on our behalf. In short, we have given government entities such as law enforcement, with the best of intentions, a monopoly on violence. Is this the fault of a tyrannical government? Not exactly. It arises when people, who are largely decent and kind hearted lack the will, fortitude, and stomach to enter into situations that are unpredictable, volatile, brutal, messy, and rapid in their evolution. In other words, violence. When we have brave individuals that are willing to take up this cross on our behalf, we have relinquished a part of the human existence that most of us would rather not acknowledge. On behalf of the individual and the law enforcement officer, this is laudable, as it stands as prima facie evidence in my view as the overall good nature of our fellow man.
But it is also not realistic.
Call 911. Do not confront them. Don’t be a hero. These short quips as moral admonitions are meant to keep us safe. But we also have to confront a harsh reality. In the big scheme of things, law enforcement in many cases cannot protect us from crimes in progress. That is not to speak ill will of our neighbors that wear the badge. That is simply confronting a reality.
When we teach a course, we begin with a simple exercise. We advise our clients that we are starting a timer, and that they should keep it in the back of their mind that in the background, the clock is ticking. At the end of nine minutes, the alarm sounds. The national average for police response to calls for service is nine minutes. Let’s put this in perspective. A single female client awakens at 3AM to a disturbance in the downstairs area of her home. She is single, at home alone, with no pets that could have caused a disturbance. Then , she smells a novel aroma, something akin to body odor from a sweating male. She calls 911.
The nine minutes has begun….. with a potential intruder in her home.
We rely on our law enforcement neighbors to stand between us and unspeakable evil. In most cases, that simply is not feasible. In cases such as this, confrontation may be your only option, yet we are constantly conditioned not to confront that which seeks to harm us. For professionals in the self-protection community, we are placed in an awkward situation. How do we balance observance of the law and respect to our partners in law enforcement with the mandate to preserve our well-being?
The relinquishment of the individual responsibility for the protection of our individual self, our family, possessions, and neighbors is indicative of a society that sadly has grown complacent, and dare I say soft. Our society is changing, and with that change is a progression toward social norms that are not as pristine as those in a bygone era. Crime rates are slowly beginning to change for the worse. Yet, the admonitions to allow law enforcement to be the sole protector of society still ring through the town square like a warning bell.
My passion is to provide my clients and students with the knowledge and ability to prevent attacks on their person and to protect their family and neighbors. This comes at great peril to their legal and social standing. But it is a moral imperative. At the end of the day, our bodies and lives are our own. They are not commodities to be auctioned off to a disinterested bidder.
Your body is your temple. It is sacred. No one has a moral right to violate the sanctity of who you are. Likewise, no one has the moral authority to deny you the right to protect yourself.