The Professionals – Part Two

Click here for The Professionals – Part One

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.

The Professionals – Part One

Our city’s police hosts what they call a Citizen’s Academy a few times per year. The class meets for three hours once per week for a total of ten weeks. It’s a big commitment, and I let that be my excuse to pass up the opportunity for a few years. This time around was different. I already knew our community outreach officer because she co-taught the self defense classes last summer. Because of that positive experience, I was determined not to let the opportunity to take the Citizen’s Academy course pass me by again.

Why am I interested? What is the motivation behind my determination to finally make the commitment? I had to have an answer to type into the registration forms. I do have a good answer that is absolutely true. What I think I know about the police comes from novels, movies, and the news media. I want to learn firsthand what police work is all about. This is an easy thing for me to say when asked. But I have deeper reasons that are not so easy to articulate.

In Karate, I play with the concepts of violence. A quick Google search yielded a definition that fits what I’m trying to express: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. At my level (currently i-kyu), when I’m sparring I’m trying to outwit my opponent and sneak a carefully controlled punch or kick past his or her guard. For kata (forms) I am expected to be able to physically and verbally express my interpretation of every single movement of every single kata I’ve memorized. This means that with every movement I visualize what my opponent is doing and exactly what I am doing to him. Even the most basic kata are to be performed with the proper mindset. I spend quite a bit of time “meditating” on violence by practicing kata, but this isn’t the same as putting myself in danger as part of my job.

By attending the Citizen’s Academy, I hope to get a glimpse of what it’s like to go to work knowing there’s a high probability one will find oneself in a bad situation. I play with concepts as a hobby. Violence is a reality for the police. Do I have a clear picture of what that’s like? Well, no. Of course not. I’m not a veteran police officer, and it’s not likely I ever will be. But after the ten weeks are over, I should have a little better understanding of those who deal with violence as part of their profession.

The first class we listened to a lecture on the job application process for those who want to join the force and then we took a tour of the station. I was stunned at the extensive process that every candidate has to go through. Folks, my toughest job interview was an absolute picnic in comparison. My biggest takeaway from touring the station is how much physical support police work requires – computers, tools, charging stations, a sally port for the detention area, rooms for cleaning equipment, secure lockers for evidence gathered at the scene of a crime, and even a small gym. Granted, police do more than just deal with violent situations – a LOT more, and yes, a good bit of the physical space and tangible stuff reflected that. But it was very hard to ignore the spaces and objects devoted to violence. This got quite “real” to me three days later when I signed waivers and put on a Kevlar vest.

I arrived at the police station early. The instructor of the Citizens Academy had advised me on how to dress. I had checked the weather forecast before I left and scrounged for something that I wouldn’t roast in and something loose enough to accommodate the bullet-proof vest I’d be wearing. I’d heard Kevlar doesn’t exactly breathe. I saw how bulky the vests are when we toured the station three days prior. The best I could do was a man’s undershirt to wear under the vest. Over the vest I wore an old, raggedy shirt (formerly my husband’s) that I wear for yard work. I looked like something the cat had dragged in.

While I waited, I sat on the lobby bench contemplating the glass case which contains mementos of an officer killed in the line of duty. The worst I’ve ever experienced in karate was – well, it’s a toss up between the broken foot when I was a teenager and the soft tissue damage to my intercostals that hurt for several months. I go home to my family after karate class.

My new officer friend took me back to fill out some paperwork while he found a bulletproof vest that more or less fit me. Less because, as the office assistant pointed out, I’m smaller than the average police officer – male or female. A bar of metal runs down the spine of the vest – that takes some getting used to when you’re sitting down. But the discomfort is better than a bullet to the spine. I don’t train for bullets in Karate. This is a whole realm of violence that I do not truly comprehend – I have a vague idea of its magnitude and gravity.

Something I do understand is how that vest would help or hinder me in a hand-to-hand fight. I resisted the urge to run into the gym to try some karate while wearing the vest. I didn’t even ask – I knew I was expected to stay in the cruiser no. matter. what. I didn’t want to give the impression that I was eager for action. Besides, my host had to get out on patrol.

The officer and I went out to the cruiser and he showed me the features of the vehicle. We hopped in and drove off.

Three days prior to this adventure, the instructor of the Citizens Academy asked, “You’re not likely to see much on a Saturday morning. Are you sure you want this time slot?” I was sure. For one thing, I’m super busy and that time slot was optimal. For another, I wanted to talk more than I wanted to see a cop catch a baddie. Sure I saw stuff. Routine traffic stops. A drunk taken away in an ambulance. But mostly we talked. Perfect. During the four hour patrol our conversation wandered, interrupted frequently by something the officer needed to do. The topic of conversation changed accordingly. The officer I rode with frequently had things he wanted me to learn and would often ask questions that made me think. And yes, I did ask questions related to violence. I know techniques, I know principles and concepts, but I don’t know reality.

In cop movies we see a lot of foot chases, vehicle chases, and shootouts. There’s more to police work than that. A lot more. Reality is that the police do a lot to try and prevent violence. The officer I rode with sometimes just says “Hi” and chats a bit with known troublemakers so that not every interaction is confrontational. Sure he knows where the hot spots for trouble are and where he’s likely to find stolen vehicles. But more importantly he knows human nature, including himself. Some of that is on-the-job experience and some of it is training.

I could relate just a little bit to a few aspects of this officer’s extensive and comprehensive training. I’ve been pushed to my limits mentally and physically. Frequently I have to master myself and my emotions. I can see where new officers would be prone to certain mistakes. But there’s more for an officer to master. Firearm proficiency, driving at high speed, fighting hand to hand, first aid, writing clear reports – that’s just the surface. There’s extensive training in how to handle a wide range of human behavior. In particular I envied the training my host received in de-escalation. The ultimate goal is to build the community.

It’s strange to think about violence (“behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something“) being a part of building a community. But it is and always will be.

Sitting alone in the cruiser, watching my new friend, praying for his safety – that was reality. I wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest just for fun. At any time, fertilizer could have hit the rotating cooling device. Unless the vehicle caught fire, I was to remain in the cruiser at all times. I came up with a strategy. I knew where the door lock button was. I knew I could duck down and the side panels of the vehicle would offer a good bit of protection. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t scared. But I do admit this was unfamiliar territory for me. I’m savvy enough to know that being pushed outside one’s comfort zone means learning and growth.

So what’s the bottom line here? I admit that one of the questions I asked myself on the way home was, “How do I stack up compared to a police officer – am I as badass as all that?” Uhhh… No. A friend of mine advises, “Don’t compare – someone will get hurt.” I admit that I kinda hurt myself just a little bit with feelings of inferiority as I was driving home. Training envy, maybe? But then I realized something. That police officer and I are an apple and an orange. We both invest heavily into our respective communities, but in different ways. I need to remember how many kohai (people who are lower in rank than oneself) have responded positively to my help in class. Karate is empowering and I take pride in building that into people’s lives.

Stay tuned for Part 2, publishing on October 11, 2019.

Drive Away

My little dog loves it when I take him in the car to go walk someplace. One morning I pulled over at a public park. I stopped the engine, undid my seat belt and then saw a guy purposefully approaching my car. He was looking straight at me. Yeah, I know I’m more likely to be the victim of someone I know, but still, us women can’t afford to take chances. Maybe the guy was completely harmless, maybe he needed help. But I got a bad vibe from the way he was walking towards my car. I put my seat belt back on, started the engine, and drove on to another destination.

Some of you might have noticed I didn’t give a description of the guy. Maybe one or two of you are thinking that race was a factor in my decision to drive off. Well, it was. Let me just say this: after I graduated from high school, every single time I have felt like I might need to fight and every single time I’ve chosen to get outta Dodge it was because of a white man. Every. Single. Time. The one time when someone touched me inappropriately? He was a white man. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m white – even down to my surname. That’s not to say that I will never be touched, assaulted or verbally abused by anyone else. And no, I don’t hate white men. I’ve got plenty of ’em as friends and one of ’em for keeps (my husband), so there!

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

YES, I “know Karate.” It’s not magic, folks. Even though my training gives me a better chance of survival, I could be disfigured, crippled, raped, and/or fatally wounded anyway. Karate doesn’t stop bullets and knife wounds are nasty. NO, I do NOT want to prove myself in the streets (that is to say the rational part of me doesn’t want to). Us karateka are not trained to pick fights. We are trained to respect others – and picking a fight is disrespectful. Driving away is the opposite of picking a fight. So… I guess in a twisted way I showed respect to the guy.

Wait… Whaaaat? I showed respect to some guy who gave me the heebie jeebies? Some jerk who’s up to no good isn’t worthy of respect, right? Well, so what if I showed him a bit of respect? It didn’t cost me anything but a bit more gas to drive to another park five minutes away. Frankly, it was the best I could do for him.

Let’s say I was wrong about that guy. I know myself. I would have entered that situation with adrenaline pumping, suspicious to the core. Sure, I’d have listened to whatever request he made. But no matter how reasonable the request or how easy it would have been to grant it, more than likely I would’ve snapped, “Nope, sorry. Can’t help you. Good luck.” I’d have been edging away from him the whole time. I would have let my silly little dog yap away (there are times when I do NOT tell my dog to shut the heck up). How would any of that have been respectful?

What about my right to receive respect? What about my right to walk my dog in a public park? Yes, I have those rights, but I choose my battles. If someone threatens my family member all bets are off. That’s worth fighting for. But let’s say that I put exactly that high value on my right to go to the park of my choice.

Let’s say I got out of my car. Let’s say that guy attacked me. Let’s say I sent him to the hospital or the morgue. There’s a good chance I’d have to explain my actions in court.

What would the judge ask?

“Why didn’t you just drive away? There are other parks within five minute’s drive of where you were.”

I’d be in trouble. Big time. You see, there’s such a thing as accountability. If you’re carrying a gun you can’t just discharge it anytime you want. Same goes for fighting skills. “Self defense” wouldn’t have held water in this case. Self defense was me avoiding the situation altogether. All anyone can truly say is I was rude. I’ll own that but I won’t feel guilty for it.

Maybe it was rude of me to spray a bit of dust and gravel over the guy’s trousers. That’s how close he was when I pulled out. But I’d have been pretty rude to him anyway even if I’d talked to him. Something I’ve heard in almost every self defense class I’ve attended is us women want to be polite and there are people who will take advantage of that. The part of me that wanted to be polite did yammer a bit as I drove to the next park. At the same time, the dark part of me, the part of me that would love to prove myself in battle, grumbled and growled. Folks, I’m human. This is why we have areas of our brains that are dedicated to being reasonable and rational. Karate is one way of training those reasonable and rational parts of our psyche. As a bonus, you get a good workout 🙂

Update: Two weeks after I wrote the draft for this post, I saw the guy again, two miles away from where I’d seen him last. He was shirtless (good thing the weather was nice) and waving his arms around, discussing something very animatedly with absolutely no one. I pity him and hope he gets the help he needs.

P. S. – if you think avoiding a totally unnecessary fight is cowardly, you need help. Seriously. Get counseling before you get thrown in jail.