The Warrior and the Criminal

A famous tale of Kamiizumi Nobutsuna, a renowned Japanese swordsman:

“One day, when their path took them to Myōkō Temple in Owari Province, the three saw a large crowd of villagers standing some distance from a solitary cottage. They all seemed concerned about something and were deep in a heated discussion. When asked what had happened, the villagers replied that a criminal had been holding a child hostage since early in the morning. Although the child’s parents had been desperately seeking help, no one knew what to do. All was confusion.

As soon as he understood the situation, Nobutsuna said to the villagers, “Don’t worry. I will rescue the child in the cottage.” Then he turned to a priest standing within the circle of villagers, and said, “Please shave my head and lend me your robe.” Even Nobutsuna’s companions were struck dumb with amazement. Nobutsuna led the priest to an area that couldn’t be seen from the cottage. There he stuck out his head to have it shaved.

Seeing a priest approaching the cottage, the criminal, a brutal, gigantic man, yelled in a thundering voice, “Don’t come any closer. Don’t approach me or I’ll kill this child.” Putting his left arm around the child’s neck, the criminal put his right hand on the hilt of the sword at his side. Without hesitating, Nobutsuna strode forward towards the cottage, saying, “I have rice balls for the child. He must be so hungry by this time. Since a priest’s vocation is to serve people with compassion, he cannot be indifferent to people in situations like this.”

Nobutsuna took a rice ball from his robe and threw it towards the child. Then he took out a second and said, “You must be hungry, too. You are, aren’t you? Eat this and take a breather!” He rolled it towards the man, who reached for it without thinking. Just at the moment the criminal let down his guard for a second, Nobutsuna jumped. Holding the criminal’s right arm, Nobutsuna wrestled him to the floor. Then he grabbed the child and rushed out of the cottage. It was a feat done as quickly as lightning by a man completely alert. The villagers swooped down on the criminal as Nobutsuna returned the child to his parent’s arms and took off the priest’s robe.

Admiring Nobutsuna’s feat, the priest said, “You must be a man who has attained enlightenment through swordsmanship.” Then the priest offered the robe to Nobutsuna. By offering the robe, the priest showed that he had perceived greatness in Nobutsuna’s character. ”

From: Sugawara, Makoto, Lives of Master Swordsmen, 1988. (pp.93-95).


You may have seen this tale replayed in an Akira Kurosawa film. I’ve read other accounts of it – as I recall one had it that the priest bestowed the robe on Nobutsuna with the belief that the warrior facing death-in-action, training skills of the highest order, risking life to save life in the realest of senses, is a surer route to enlightenment than a monk seeking the same sitting in meditation.

Whatever and however it is, this story has layers of meaning.


Ankles – Hips – Shoulders – Grip

Ankles, hips, shoulders, grip on the weapon….

Engaging the ground path to transfer and  receive energy.

Placing the eyes where they need to be in order to see what you need to see to drive the weapon and intent… Not some mystical weapons art or ninja skill, this is modern firearms instruction.

If you don’t think shooting is truly a martial discipline, you aren’t training it correctly.


The team had Keith Tyler ( out for a day on the range. Keith holds a Grand Master card in Open and a Master card in Limited, Limited 10 and Single Stack shooting competition and is an accomplished 3 Gun competitor as well. He’s also a colleague, a nineteen year police officer and long time police firearms instructor.

I’ve had the privilege of training privately with Keith, training with him in a professional setting, in the tactical team setting, and in actually teaching him in other subjects. As with all the best teachers, he is a consummate learner first, and with him you get the sense that you are not simply being taught “at,” but that he is alongside you on a shared journey.

He has a great perspective that balances perfectly the different worlds of competition and tactical/combat shooting. He’ll note that what he does is not tactical, but more about learning to shoot faster and more accurately on demand, and then point out that the best tactical and combat shooters go to the best competitive shooters to learn to shoot faster and more accurately….then apply it to their own realm of expertise.

Keith shares great stories of some of his missteps and resultant training scars on his path to Mastery, so that the student can learn from his mistakes. He has an ability to observe you and correct just one or two things for an immediate improvement noticeable down range. He corrected me on things that I know he had already taught me – more than once – and that had me thinking too much I forgot yet other stuff! Keith caught it all and helped me shoot better. And to be a better shooter in the long run.

If you ever have the opportunity, train with him. Just wait until I can schedule more privates, though, I don’t want his calendar filling up!




Breath Control

Video Courtesy of the Chicago PD.


” … eventually things boil down to who YOU are and how you respond.

You need to maintain the ability to adapt and make sound decisions. If you find yourself screaming at threats (posturing stemming from fear), you have no breath control.

If you are huffing and puffing , before the engagement even unfolds, you have no breath control.

If you have never thought about your breath, you have no breath control.

No breath control results in you having no mind control.

No mind control results in you having no body or equipment control.

This sends you into a potentially vicious death spiral.”

Commentary Courtesy of Ken Good, in Strategos International’s Strategies of Low Light Engagements.

The breath control here is not remedied simply by “working out.” It’s not remedied by doing burpees or a Crossfit workout prior to a string of fire. Those kinds of drills are valuable because they make you in better shape, but they do not teach you to control stress.

These officers are screaming not because they are out of shape – they are sitting in a vehicle nearly the entire time, and only actually physically active a very short interval.

And yet their verbals (note the almost automatic, unison chant “shots fired at the police! shots fired at the police!) grow progressively worse as their psychological stress mounts – they are under fire and at real risk of death here.

Note someone on the radio asking them “where you at?” Very common with stressed out cops just repeating canned language (verbal templates are not always good when they take the place of actual communication…) and not using language relevant to the situation at hand…

At the end one is screaming, and all notion of a tactical approach is thrown out the window as they rush up.

Loss of breath control, loss of body control, loss of mind control.

We cannot afford to lose control, least of all of ourselves.

Free Jujitsu for Cops!

With more examples coming across the Interwebs of police officers in grappling situations, we are seeing more offers to teach jiujitsu to cops at reduced rates, or even free.

The hearts of these instructors are in the right place. And, it would be a good thing for police officers to study jiujitsu, no question there.

But let the buyer beware – if you are specifically talking about jiujitsu for police you’d better be aware of the many issues surrounding how police can use jiujitsu.

Remember, despite what some instructors may present, there is a marked difference between sport jiujitsu and jiujitsu applied in arrest and control and survival situations.


  1. Jiujitsu offers NO discussion of use of force laws, policies, or liability.

None. There is no concept of the laws and rules that surround police use of force. There is no understanding of necessary and reasonable force or excessive force concepts. A teacher instructing officers on “how to do” something may be utterly ignorant that what he just showed went too far….

Similarly, due to not understanding and erroneously interpreting the above restrictions,  there is a lack of education on when officers actually can go further.


2. Jiujitsu does not teach tactical awareness or tactical thinking.

There is no de-escalation. There is no disengagement. There is no use of cover (creating reactionary gaps) or other environmental factors. There is no verbal component to the confrontation.

This goes hand in hand with the above. Yes, officers will, and should be getting this training professionally, but in nearly twenty years on the job and eighteen as an instructor in tactical subjects, the most important and lasting training officers receive is that which combines physical and mental stressors with tactical thinking and decision making.

An officer studying jiujitsu and not integrating it with other use of force concerns is not being trained adequately and not necessarily patterning the right things.

I have seen this even with experienced officers who do jiujitsu – physical application divorced from tactical understanding.

From the standpoint of physical technique, jiujitsu is not tactically oriented, it is technically oriented: witness the various examples of instructors and officers moving out of a superior position – an arresting position in which cuffs can be applied -in order to attempt a submission. It’s not just Rener Gracie doing this – there are plenty of examples of street cops dropping to the ground – or choosing to stay there – to attempt arm bars or other submissions.

This occurs with the self defense perspective as well – as an example there is a bizarre “Jiujitsu vs. Rapist” video where the girl places herself in a much worse position than when she started, when a much easier and more efficient alternative  – simply to disengage and run away  – was readily available.


Lack of tactical thinking….and a focus on specific techniques and a particular approach to jiujitsu.

The reasoning for this, I think, is because:

3. Jiujitsu thinks of real encounters as one-on-one “street fights” and not tactical situations or arrests.

The jiujitsu paradigm is about “fights” as a test of personal skill and personal will, and thinks about winning them, ideally through submission. In this sense, there is no difference between street fights and sport fights.

An arrest or tactical situation, or personal defense encounter,  one of cardinal rules is to avoid getting involved in a test of skill or ego measuring contest. It’s not about who is the better fighter!

4.Jiujitsu (modern jiujitsu) makes no allowance for weapons.

Jiujitsu is an unarmed fighting sport. It makes no allowance for use of weapons except in its rather stilted self defense curriculum, which is not tested under the same pressures as it’s grappling.

This is the exact same paradigm found in Judo, whence modern Brazilian Jiujitsu was born.

We’ve talked about that before, too.

Heck, sport jiujitsu doesn’t really even deal with striking.

What comes from this is often a false sense of agreement pertaining to self defense and tactical situations. By agreement, I mean that the parties involved agree to engage in a test of skill (see above) in which certain means and countermeasures are prescribed.

A puzzling example of this we seem to be seeing more often is the application of “T shirt” and “Hoody”  chokes as practical methods for “street defense” or police usage.

Worst is when these are shown with the practitioner in the guard – on his or her back or butt, with an attacker between their legs.

The problem here is that the practitioners must use both his or her hands in a series of several movements – and you will note that in nearly every case one or both the attackers hands are completely free to do whatever they want.

Such chokes may be useful in a situation where the practitioner is on top of the attacker, because the effectiveness of a free hand can be limited much more easily through position. But then you have issues of necessary and excessive force – none of which even the most eager jiujitsu instructor is likely discuss with much authority.

By all means study jiujitsu – I do!  Much of what it teaches makes me much safer, much more competent, and much more confident dealing with real world violence with composure.

But make sure you understand the differences, and how they need to be adapted tactically.

The Stockdale Paradox


In the middle of teaching a class on Active Threat Response and thinking of how important is the mindset aspect of this kind of work. It called to mind the concept of the Stockdale Paradox.

Admiral James Stockdale was a Vietnam War hero, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor (among other high combat honors), and one time Vice Presidential candidate. He was also a proponent of Stoicism

Ah, if only we had his like now!

Stockdale was shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for over seven years. His composure, his actions, and his leadership during that time earned him the Medal of Honor.

Stockdale has been quoted as saying:

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

This speaks to every one of us who at one time or another may come face to face with the stark reality of our own death. The faith that you will prevail in the end, held alongside the brutal facts of your current reality…

It’s described as a duality, a paradox, which I suppose it is by most people’s account.

But it’s not. It’s a monism. Hard to grasp, I know, but in that moment, or in those years of the most demanding of meditations-in-action that Stockdale endured, it can only be oneness.

Stockdale is not the only one to remark on this. One of my favorite quotes comes from G.K. Chesterton, who wrote:

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die…A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.”

– G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy.

Though from Christian perspective, Chesterton’s quote has much in common with the Stoic ideas that galvanized Stockdale, and those that form the bedrock of the classical martial ethos.

And those that should inform the cultivation of our armed professionals today…