Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tactical etiquette

When I was 12-years-old I began training in Traditional Aikido. For those people who don’t know what Aikido is – shut up. I’m not an encyclopedia. Go look it up. For those not taking the off-lane on the information super-highway to study martial arts, let me advise you on the following: Manners and good etiquette get you places. Bad manners just end up getting a shinai wrapped around your head.

Don’t know what a shinai is? You will, when it’s wrapped around your head.

In fact, the mat was where I learned that there are some times when you need to keep your mouth shut. A story about bad etiquette, loud mouths and how they relate to a shinai will be provided. Now sit down and shut up.

Manners are absent everywhere if you look. You have cackling idiots and early morning zombies shuffling through the day everywhere you go. There’s loud, messy monkeys stuffing their face and talking with their mouth full, there’s parking-lot pinheads who can’t drive or park, but always aim for the pedestrians, like they’re some kind of magnets for behind-the-wheel jackasses. And of course, you have the really impolite terrorists. Terrorists are not polite, because they are assholes. And an asshole only poops in one direction and pays no attention to the rest of the world.

And of course, they are also impolite, because they walk around stoked on drugs or religious fervor, believing their way is the only way – and everyone should be like them. Like bad department store denizens, these creatures crash through the world as if they’re pushing some crazy battering ram, exploding cart. No etiquette. A shinai is required - or in the case of terrorists – a good, solid knife, a serviceable firearm, a Predator drone, or other even more imaginative things.

That’s often the problem with the world – there’s usually not the appropriate attitude-correction tool within reach.

But every now and then, situations line up the way they should, and the old adage “hammer the nail back into the board, or it will cut everyone else’s feet,” can be seen. In a traditional Aikido dojo, as I well know, that is hardly ever a problem. The nail will go back into the board. And herein lies the “tactical” part of today’s post. If you are going to prepare for war – you must train appropriately. The warrior is not concerned with life or death. Nor are they concerned with real-world or training. To a proper warrior, there is only one way. It is always the same. In the Hagakure, it can be seen that appropriate behavior – measured and consistent and correct, is the true way of the warrior. A well-balanced, well executed response in a case like this, is not reactive at all. It is pro-active.

Every experience in a traditional dojo builds on very simple rules. Follow them precisely and an individual develops the right attitude, the right composure, the right discipline and the right capabilities to meet the challenges they are preparing for, off the mat.

One day, Sensei had a headache, and ordered absolutely no speaking on the mat – not that there was much, anyway. But some of the senior students with an eye toward helping those more junior, would jabber mindlessly on occasion. Sensei promised he would hammer anyone if they said a single word. I noticed my brother, Victor was still talking, so I cautioned him, being wise to Sensei’s demeanor that day.

Victor was unwise.

Seeing this, Sensei simply picked up his shinai, and calmly walked up behind Vic, waiting a moment, perhaps to see if Vic would have the presence of mind to either shut up – or the situational awareness to notice Sensei’s reflection in the mirror just a few feet in front of him.

Neither proved to be the case. Vic was oblivious to the workings of his mouth, the whereabouts of his teacher, and apparently, the way a mirror can exhibit someone quite clearly, who is standing behind you with a massive piece of bamboo. Apparently Vic had also lost the ability to understand English, because he just kept talking with everyone else silent and looking on, and Sensei standing behind him like a huge, dark storm.

As was said by the great teacher, Kenshiro Abbe Sensei, “a shinai speaks perfect English.”

And so, the shinai crashed down on the top of Vic’s head – because in a traditional dojo, the shinai always strikes the offending part. As Vic’s mouth was on his head, logic demanded that the strike would come there – as it did, in fact. It hit Vic so hard, that it wrapped around the top of his head and struck the front of his face.

Now, you gentle types out there with your soft, mewling words like “blend and cooperate – and all that ridiculous pap, may believe that this correction is not equal to the offense. To you, I can only say, Vic did not speak again during that practice, and so etiquette was restored and lessons were learned – even by those of us who’s heads didn’t have a vertical stripe on them.

But I can also say this: “Shut the Hell up.” Train as you plan to fight. Fight to live. Even the smallest lessons on the mat are not divorced from this.

And if there are no men or women of the mat – then they will not exist on the battlefield either.

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