The local police department’s Citizen’s Academy wrapped up this week. I have already compared and contrasted police work and karate twice (see Part One and Part Two). Of course not everything I learned over the course of ten classes was directly relatable to karate. That’s perfectly OK – I enjoyed learning new things and making connections with people in my community. I had fun listening to people whose perspectives are different from my own. During the penultimate class, we found out that we share a deeply fundamental thing. By and large, we want to preserve our own lives and we are capable of making choices, for good or ill, pretty much instantly in a “him or me” situation.
For the next-to-the-last class, we got to experience a simple firearm simulation program. With the right software I can download, say, a clip from the movie “The Shining,” then, with a fake gun and a special screen, “shoot” Jack before he has a chance to sneer, “Heeeeer’s Johnny!” Or I can “hunt” velociraptors in Jurassic Park’s kitchen. That’s all fun stuff, of course, but think about this. I can also download actual dashboard camera or bodycam footage recorded on the scene of a real situation. I can compare my performance to actual policemen.
I know in one aspect I’d do worse than any given police officer. As of this writing I’m such a poor marksman that I can’t even hit the broad side of a barn. I don’t have the muscle memory to pull the trigger of a pistol properly, much less pull the pistol out of its holster without shooting my own kneecap off. My incompetence could change over time. With a good bit of consistent training and practice, I could be even more of a badass with a firearm than I am with empty hands. Some of my fellow students were good marksmen, firing neat little clusters of shots at the bad guys’ vital organs. But that wasn’t the point of our lesson at all.
Before my fellow students and I got to try out the firearm simulator, we spent about an hour talking about decision making and consequences. This was mostly about the standards that the police are held to and the options they may or may not get to employ before taking a life. Apparently, at least in my state, civilians are not held to the same high standards (see Washington RCW 9A.16.010 for what civilians can do). I need to ask if training in empty hand or firearms makes any difference for civilians. But one thing is for sure – police and civilians alike usually face civil lawsuits for their actions.
For the purpose of the lesson it didn’t matter that one participant clearly would have killed the baddie while another participant shot a wastebasket instead (hey, she did better than me). Three instructors and at least a dozen citizens, all agreed that whoever was “on stage” was justified in their actions. Everyone who tried the simulations made the right decisions – they got the baddies, they didn’t shoot if the baddie surrendered, and they didn’t shoot anyone they shouldn’t have. We all agreed on what the right thing to do was in every single scenario. Every single person who actually fired that fake gun at the screen made their decisions instantly.
So in one sense, I don’t think I have to worry at all about my ability to assess situations and employ my options. It’s good to have that confirmation of seeing my fellow humans make those decisions and to experience those scenarios myself. So far in my adult life, I’ve been able to avoid fighting. But if and when I do have to fight, there will be consequences.
Other authors have far more authority than I to write about PTSD. I don’t mean to downplay it by skimming over it. But PTSD is only part of the aftermath of violence.
In one of the scenarios shown when it was my turn to fire the fake gun, a guy suddenly charged towards the camera, intending to stab with a barbecue fork that he’d previously hidden from view. In that instant I had no idea that it wasn’t a knife. I didn’t know it was a knife until the scene was played again. Everyone in the room agreed that it would be nasty to be stabbed with a barbecue fork. Everyone in the room agreed that I was right to “kill” him even if he wasn’t holding a knife. But one of our instructors pointed out that the fact that I didn’t see that the barbecue fork wasn’t a knife could count against me in court. Also, the media could paint a picture of me killing a guy charging me with “a fork.” I joked, “Naw, they’d say it was a spork.” But that’s not all.
The same instructor pointed out later that it doesn’t matter that the bad guy’s family hasn’t talked to him in ten years – chances are the family will chase the money and file a civil suit. People who are lawfully justified in their actions to protect their lives can still lose civil suits. Yes, those same people could win, but still lose a lot. Who among us can afford a lawyer? Even insurance against such a suit, as some firearm owners have, could be beyond some people’s means. So – I could save my life but I could lose my house years later. Fair trade? If I were single, yes. But I have a family.
This is what our police officers put on the line for us every single day.
So, what does this mean for us martial artists? Be freakin’ careful. Duh. But more than that – learn the deeper lessons of your art. Self control is the biggest lesson. Self control helps keep you from shooting off your mouth or engaging in unnecessary violence. Of course knowing how to handle pressure and stress is a useful skill too. When you’re in as good a head space as you can manage, you’re more aware of your options. I’ll write more about that in my next blog post.
Police departments vary in where they draw the lines between levels of violence, but all departments have formal, written standards (usually accompanied by neat little charts or graphs). Us martial artists don’t have to write stuff up and accompany it with a cute little graph, but we are aware of which techniques do what and often we can vary the degree of damage. Some martial artists study weapons in addition to empty hands and so have more tools at their disposal. But there’s one tool that everyone has as their baseline. You should use it as your first line of defense IF you can.
Your voice. Every single self defense class I’ve taken or helped teach has stressed the importance of one’s voice. Yes, shouting to draw attention. But there’s more – provided you have the luxury of time and if you are dealing with someone who is rational enough to listen. I recommend Rory Miller’s book _Conflict Communication: A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication_. After class, us participants were invited to take a book home. Our host instructor had too many books, evidently. I gleefully chose _Verbal Judo: The Art of Gentle Persuasion_ by George J. Thompson. Maybe some day I’ll let you know how I like it. Yes, I had a literal takeaway, but I also had a very affirming heart takeaway.
I have faith in my own ability to make life or death decisions and to quickly employ whatever tools are appropriate. I had no problem reading the intent of the baddies and making the instant decision to preserve my life. I can trust my karate training. And as far as PTSD and civil lawsuits go – I’ll cross those bridges if I come to them. Forewarned is forearmed.