A “Cobra Kai” Type Of Guy?

The below is typical of a kind of letter I often receive from people who come across this blog. It’s more or less a letter criticizing my “alleged” teaching methodologies, from someone who has never met me. At first one might just attribute these comments to a naïve young Judoka, but when we checked out the background of the writer he turned out to be a seasoned veteran, with some fairly substantial Judo credentials. However, it’s clear he really doesn’t understand the difference between “Martial Sport” and “Martial Art.”

“Hi Gary;
Just cruisin internet at night; a bit sleepless in nz
Judo crazy person
Read your diatribe on blog about why judo not aikido principles
To me they are very similar arts especially on principles; (of maximum efficiency with minimal effort)
Just they have different rules.
That u have striking to hurt instead of looking after your opposition even in a brawl smacks of lack of compassion;
Are u real??
In judo we are taught to look after our opponent so we do not hurt them, even in a brawl, (and our strikes are few but lethal for that special occasion where life threatening needs outweigh compassion)
U sound like the bad yanky coach on karate kid movie, but grappling based,
Is that what u have to do in usa to survive??
Sad indeed
Hope u take my criticism as constructive, sorry if I offend u”

First off, I don’t find this letter offensive at all. In fact everyone in class got a serious laugh out of the fact I was compared to “Karate Kid’s” Sensei John Kreese of the Cobra Kai. Anyone who knows me and the way I teach will tell you nothing is further from the truth.

Secondly, while it is true that in Judo one is taught to look after their opponent’s welfare, I would like to point out that Judo is a sport. While some Judoka I know practice like it is life or death, the goal of a Judo match is to win a CONTEST. There are “RULES” and safety for the competitors is enforced.

I mean no offense to Judoka, especially old-school Judo practitioners, such as my good friend Victor Anderson, who will quickly point out that certain aspects of Judo can be used for self-defense. But in most cases, sport Judo techniques are not viable on the street. And yes, I know there are self-defense kata (forms) within the art of Judo. Unfortunately, many of these forms are impractical, and more importantly are rarely practiced in most Judo schools. The fact is, most Judo schools focus the majority of their time on the sporting aspect of the art.

Lastly, I don’t know how the above writer defines a brawl, but any violent physical altercation that I did not initiate is one that I consider a threat to my health and welfare (and If I did initiate it, I deserve to have my butt kicked for being that stupid). That means I will “do onto others” before they have a chance to “do onto me”. My opponent lacked the ability to show me compassion, by threatening me with physical injury, so he deserves no compassion in return.

That does not mean I have to knock-out, cripple ,and/or kill the attacker; but I’m going to make sure that whatever I do stops their aggressive actions as quickly and effectively as possible. This means stopping their aggressive acts by any, and I mean any, means necessary.

Simply put, I don’t look for opportunities to fight, never have, but I wont let anyone hurt my loved ones or me either.

My main grievances with the above letter–and others like it that I’ve received in the last year or so–is that they all come form people who practice a “martial sport,” and don’t understand that in the street, when one is forced to protect their life, there are no “RULES,” and no room for “Compassion.”

In addition, none of them have any idea how I teach. They just assume, like in this instance where I’ve been compared to Sensei Kreese, that I have a “Go For The Kill Mentality.” They think that I’m a violent type of guy that teaches fighting with no morality.

First of all, I have talked my way out of, walked away from, and ran away from more opportunities to fight than I can count. While some instructors, such as many of the Gracies, may boast how many “street type fights” they have won, I am equally proud to say how many I’ve avoided, simply because I saw no need to resort to physical violence.

Besides, fighting in my neighborhood is a no-win situation. In my neighborhood, winning a one-on-one fight today means having a two-on-one fight tomorrow. Worse yet, things may even escalate from there. With the abundance of easily obtainable weaponry, and a growing decline in reluctance to use such weaponry, things can get really ugly quickly.

Secondly, I do not teach my students to fight, nor do I advocate using violence to settle conflicts. However, when push comes to shove, I don’t teach my students to be victims.

The truth is that if one of my students gets in the unfortunate situation where their life or well-being is jeopardized, I want them to have all the tools necessary to defend themselves. How “lethal” they choose to be in any given situation is up to them. They need to weigh the circumstances of the situation, and their morals and beliefs. I won’t be there, and it’s not my place to second-guess anyone’s actions in such a situation. Clearly how I would react and how they may react can be worlds apart.

For example, if someone were to attack me I would most likely react one way. The amount of force I would use would be based on the situation and the how threatened I was. My defense would not be based on emotions, just necessity.

However, I wouldn’t stop defending myself until I was certain the threat was over. This could mean anything from severely injuring my opponent, to forcing him to retreat and run away. In either case the threat would be nullified before I stopped.

On the other hand, if someone were to attack my wife or my children, then I most likely would react excessively, and leave it up to the courts to determine whether I crossed the line. In this case, as much as I’ve trained to detach myself emotionally from a confrontation, my emotions would most likely get the best of me.

I, for one, fully understood the rage that drove a father to kill the man accused of molesting his son during the molester’s trail several years ago in Nevada. I’m not saying his actions were right, I just understand his motivation. I would never see myself doing the same thing, but I’m sure I would feel like I wanted to.

And, of course, if I caught someone in the act of hurting my loved ones, that’s another story. After all, anger and outrage can make a barbaric beast of even the most virtuous and forgiving of men.

Recently, I faced a situation where a man trespassing in the building I manage almost took a swing at me while I was holding my 6-month-old baby in my arms. If he had swung, I can assure everyone I would have gone for the kill. Or, maybe I should say my first counter-strike would have been enough to make sure there was no need for more. I don’t care how that sounds, but he was putting my child at risk (just to note, I didn’t approach/provoke him, he hostilely approached me because he knew I managed the place).

Now, I’m not saying that if I ever severely hurt or killed someone while protecting my family, or myself I wouldn’t feel remorse for my any actions. However there is a difference between remorse, and being justified, especially in terms of the judicial system.

It’s basically the same resolve I had as a police officer. As an officer, I knew there was always the possibility that one day I might have to use deadly force. While I hoped it would never happen, I knew that as long as I was justified I could live with my actions.

The truth of the matter, and my main disagreement with attitudes such as those expressed by the author of the above letter, is that one cannot approach life protection skills with a martial sports mind-set. They are totally different things.

If I am in a sporting contest, I have elected to place myself in such a situation. I know the risks. I also know there are rules, and referees which will end the contest if things get out of hand. I can afford to hold back and be less lethal. It’s a contest of skill.

Of course, ask boxers like Mike Tyson how much they held back with competing. Most boxers will tell you that during a match you hit as hard as you can with the intent to inflict as much damage as possible. In reality, there really isn’t that much “compassion” between two pugilists. The same can be said for Thai Boxing and a lot of the MMA that is popular today.

However, as aggressive as these fighting sports are, there is still a difference when it comes to life-protection skills. First and foremost, there are rules that govern what can and cannot be done. There are no rules in the real world: there are no referees, and in many cases the fight is against multiple assailants, or a weapon-wielding thug.

Secondly, in the real world, when I’m attacked, I didn’t initiate the conflict. I may have placed myself in a bad situation by being careless of my whereabouts/surroundings, but I should be able to walk the streets with out being accosted. I should be able to go to a bar and not have some loud mouth drunk get in my face.

To say that I should react with compassion in such a situation is ludicrous. I’m the victim here, and was the one attacked. I can’t help it if the attacker chooses the wrong person to mess with.

In my opinion, the attacker gave up all “Rights” to be treated humanely, when he decided to try and cause me, or my family, bodily harm.

It’s also ludicrous to say I should act compassionately in such an instant, because I may only have one chance to be successful with my defense. Any hesitation, anything but 100% focused purpose, might be just enough to give the attacker the upper hand.

Lastly, from a legal perspective, if I don’t feel my life and welfare are truly jeopardized I shouldn’t defend myself with physical force anyway, no matter what degree of force I chose to use. That’s a situation I should just walk away from.

Let me makes this perfectly clear, if I can’t justify my actions when resorting to use violence to defend myself/my family, later in a court of law to a “REASONABLE” degree then no matter what I did will be wrong. Even if I should choose to act “compassionately.”

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For more context, see these previous essays:


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Just as I was putting the finishing touch on the above essay, two very vivid examples of extremely violent altercations took place a block away form my house within 24 hours. One involved a stabbing and simultaneous shooting, and the other another shooting in retaliation for the first attack.

“Three Wounded in Attack in Mission”, San Francisco Chronicle; July 11th, 2008

“Second Attack is Fatal at 20th and Mission”, San Francisco Chronicle; July 12th, 2008

All these events occurred in broad daylight, on a very busy intersection, with numerous pedestrians and motorists around the event (those in law enforcement call these people innocent bystanders).

Now I’m not mentioning these incidents just to show how dangerous an area I live in. I’m mentioning it because it illustrates my point that when faced with serious life threatening situations one cannot afford to act compassionately. Or if they do they could end up dead, or seriously wounded, like the victims in this case.

While the above violence is gang related, these gang members put many innocent people in harm’s way. Anyone in the area could have been hurt, just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Clearly, these combatants could not care less for anyone’s welfare, and deserved any violent act one could commit on them in order to prevent/stop them from their aggressive acts.

For anyone to have the mind-set that a violent individual deserves any compassion when committing an act of violence is simply insane. Here in the real world, there are no second chances, no second round/match. Points are not awarded for great technique, nor is the goal to pin one’s opponent or make him tap out. There are no referees, except for whatever Deity you may believe in.

In the real world you live or die, and violence only leads to debilitating injury and/or death. It’s just your choice whether you are on the receiving end or not.

As the old adage says, “It’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”