As of this writing I’m four classes and one ride-along into my local police department’s Citizens Academy. I’m getting a little glimpse into what life is like for people who deal with violence as part of their profession. By comparing and contrasting and by looking through the eyes of my fellow Citizens Academy students, I’m learning some things about my own karate training as well.
I mentioned in my last post during my ride-along I learned that police officer training is extensive. The first part of our second class covered this training. I took notes – what’s covered, how many hours, etc. There’s even a probationary period, during which the new officer is constantly being evaluated while on the job. It’s all very impressive, but I was most pleased to hear is training is ongoing for our police officers. This isn’t just physical skills training, by the way. For example, laws change, procedures change, and sometimes there are new discoveries about human behavior. Most officers do more than the yearly 24 hours mandated by the state. I can relate to this constant refinement of skills and learning new things – or even different aspects of familiar skills.
What was surprising to me is that many (not all) of my classmates don’t seem to grasp just how powerful ongoing training really is and what the benefits are. Repetition, time, and being continually pushed outside one’s comfort zone might be utterly foreign territory for these students. How do I know this holds true for many of my classmates? I listened to their questions. I wish I’d written down the questions and the contexts for those questions, but perhaps something would be lost in the telling. Suffice it to say, the first question jolted me to the core. I realized that some of my fellow Citizens Academy students need a little help understanding things that I simply intuit. That’s not to say I can relate to all the material presented in the class – I can’t. But I do grasp some things at a very deep level.
The second half of our second class was about patrol procedures. This gave me a wider view of what I’d learned on my ride-along. A team of officers came to talk with us about this. There was a good bit of “show and tell” with the various tools of their trade. Using weapons to mete out violence is not something I grasp intuitively, as kobudo is not part of our curriculum and, of course, we don’t play with tasers, pepper spray, or projectile weapons in karate. I know for sure the two students grasped some things about these tools intuitively (a gun instructor and a veteran, respectively), while the rest of us needed a little help. In order to gain a better understanding of what the use of deadly weapons entails I started listening for the underlying themes woven throughout the “show and tell.”
Teamwork is not emphasized much in karate, but it’s vital to police work. The most I’ve ever done is I’ve taken my turn being one of two or three “attackers” in a sparring exercise. I have only the tiniest of inklings on how to help someone take a person down. Add weapons to the mix and I have absolutely no clue. But what I can wrap my head around is the value of training as a team. Ongoing, repetitive training with updates and innovations as needed – that I understand on the individual level. The police take this to the next level. Each person on a team knows their role and they’ve practiced different scenarios with all their weapons. No training is ever perfect, nor can anyone anticipate absolutely everything that might happen in any given encounter. But continuous training involving loads of time and buckets of sweat is powerful – it’s the foundation of any combat system or art. I know from competing in tournaments that it’s easier to adapt what you’re doing if you have a good, solid foundation. I’m convinced each team of our city’s police has a solid foundation.
Respect and trust are vital components of this foundation. In karate, we play with fire. We emphasize respect and trust so that our training partners are healthy and available to train with us next class. Police officers don’t just play with fire: they’re sometimes right inside an inferno with weapons that can kill at a distance. They have to trust that their teammates know their roles and have each other’s backs (so to speak). Respect for their leaders and for one another is crucial when the heat is on – there’s no time for arguing and petty sniping. Trust and respect are interwoven throughout the police’s extensive hiring process. The team that came in for “show and tell” didn’t explicitly talk about trust and respect, but I saw it was there. It was there in the non-verbal communication among team members. It was there in how they directly related to us students and with one another.
Us karate folks would say my city’s police practice good bushido (the way of the warrior). As one of my sensei(s) taught me just last week, you have to know the people you’re going into battle with. That’s what bushido is all about. You know your comrades’ training, you know their strengths, you know their weaknesses. You know you can rely on them. Not that anyone in my dojo is going to battle anytime soon – not like the police who, on any given day, could find themselves in a confrontation. That said, I know who will back me up if I’m ever jumped while stepping outside the dojo some dark night. And I know who to call after it’s all over.