On Disaster and Shattered Narratives

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and flooded the southeast portion of my home State. I have read reports that the rainfall totals broke continental records. Since such totals have been recorded, there has not been this much rainfall on the North American Continent.

What I will be looking at today is something that caught my attention as events unfolded. I will drop this in the personal safety category because how you interact with other people plays a tremendous role in your level of personal safety. Although some portions of the topic might seem political, this is only due to the climate of debate in our time. I actually think that most of the people who read this one will not get emotional or angry at all. I saw some really positive stuff this week, and I thought about it a lot. I want to share some of this with you.

During the extremely draining and lengthy lead up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the news was filled with polarizing and inflammatory rhetoric. Many of the louder voices on both sides continually upped the ante in terms of seeing how far would be too far in demonizing the other side.

As it happens, they never seemed to think they had gone far enough. By the time of the election, by all accounts, things were really bad in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Some of us are critical thinkers. We can see a news report and right away see the juvenile ways in which they try to stir up our emotions. Whether you were watching right or left leaning news sources, this was being done. I took frequent breaks from the news. I felt sorry for myself and the age I was living in and was quite jealous of the voters in 1800 who got to choose between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

But I was continually puzzled at the doom and gloom shown on the news, and the absolute opposite that I was seeing in my interactions with real human beings. By all news accounts, the Country was half deplorable and half snowflake. But among my friends, coworkers, and the complete strangers that are a part of living life I saw very few of either.

Sure, friends from both sides of the political spectrum regurgitated the canned soundbites they had seen on the news. No worries or surprises there. This is no sign of stupidity, this is a human habit. And it is a habit that gives me no cause for alarm. People do it, and I see no reason to really care.

To be sure; there are asshat racist idiots in the Country, and there are the grown-up babies who need safe spaces and cry at the sight or sound of a word they don’t like. But, they are few. The lack of on-the-ground proof of the deplorable/snowflake societal aggregate gave me pause. I was puzzled and curious.

After the election, there were the people on T.V. crying on cue, and the outlandish behavior of attention junkies on the social media sites, but the normal people were okay even when they voted for the other person. Grownups understand that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. At my age, I can say that this is a fact. Political elections here are like a pendulum. Our tastes swing from one extreme to the other, and then back again.

But the media kept pushing this idea that we were, as a Nation, at a crossroads. And that if something was not done, the country would be lost forever. There was a lot of coverage of riots protests on inauguration day. There have actually been people beating up people they disagree with at planned riots protests.

Then comes Hurricane Harvey.

Texas, like many other States, has widely varying political views. Most of the State is right leaning, with our highly populated big cities being more left leaning. As the Hurricane approached, there was a certain level of political jockeying being done. The Republican Governor sent messages on social media that the city of Houston should evacuate (smart). The Democratic Mayor of Houston said that Houstonians should ignore that request (not so smart). Hurricanes flood the right and the left.

The hurricane hit, and the city flooded like never before.

Did the left leaning people of Houston leave the deplorable citizens to die? Did the right leaning people have no time to save the snowflakes? Did the Police check skin color or immigration status before helping people? Was political affiliation or voting record needed in order to get in a boat to safety?

No, no, no, and no.

Regular people are not like what you read about or see on T.V. and the internet.

The real people who had the means to help helped others without regard to any of the divisive categories forced upon us by our betters. I admit to feeling a certain measure of glee when I realized that the narrative of division and hate supposedly permeating our Country had been shattered. I would be lying if I did not also admit that there was a fair amount of satisfaction in the fact that it was Texas who had the chance to showcase the false narrative to everyone. In a time of true disaster, people were just people, and they were doing what we do here. They were helping and trying to save lives. None of the divisions mattered at all. Yes, there was some looting. We always have and always will have to suffer the selfish and the stupid. There have been some scammers trying to set up fake charities to collect money that will only go to the person setting up the scam. We always have and always will have to suffer the selfish and the stupid.

I felt really good about the humanity at its best on full display. The death count is still rising, and this continues to break my heart. But in trying to see the good, I think I found it.

It is good to know that, in spite of the loud extremists on both sides, the vast middle ground is peopled with folk who want to get along and live their lives. I found a reason to think that we might just get past all of this hate!

Continue to take care of each other.

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Charlottesville: Hard Truths

At this writing, we are a few days removed from some terrible events in Charlottesville Virginia. I have been asked for thoughts and advice, and that is the only reason for this post. I do not want to touch this subject at all and will try to keep things within the confines of the intended purpose of this blog. People have asked my thoughts on what happened, but more have asked about staying safe in such incidents. I will focus my thoughts on those questions of personal safety. Be forewarned though, trying to stay apolitical on something like this isn’t easy. And in our time, politics brings out strong emotional reactions in many people. If you find yourself getting angry over what I present here today, may I recommend a nice chamomile tea?

There was a scheduled rally in Charlottesville by a white supremacist group. There was a counter-protest that arrived and was staged by several violent leftist groups. There was no good that would result from any of this. In this instance, both sides were acting like animals, both sides were upping the levels of violence, and in the end, a 32-year-old woman was killed and dozens more injured when one of the white supremacists used his car to plow through a group of people on the road. While the details were not predictable, the violence was. Something bad was going to happen there.

The question that kept coming up from my readers was how do you stay safe in these situations?

For a really great start, understand that both sides in this mess planned to be there ahead of time. Not spontaneous, the event was planned. To stay safe, one could begin with not going there in the first place. No good can come from such events, there are no positive results to be had. As an outsider, I look at what happened quite simply – two groups looking for trouble. I don’t see anything to lead me to believe either side intended to be peaceful. When you are bringing shields and baseball bats to a rally I find it hard to believe you were only there to sing kumbaya. When you hear about a rally or a riot “protest” that will be taking place at this place and time, avoid that place at that time. The math on this isn’t complicated. You stand a much better chance of not being caught up in a riot if you avoid the places where these “protests” are being held.

Next, if you happen to stumble upon a riot in progress, get out of there immediately. You should be able to see something going on before you are actually in the middle of it if you are paying attention. But in a worst case scenario, once you see where you are and what is happening, get out.

All of this might seem a little too simplistic, or possibly even dismissive of the feelings people have for the various political issues of the day. But understand, your safety is 100% your responsibility, and there are legal liabilities involved in participating in a “protest” if things go wrong. Do you feel so strongly about an issue that you would risk your freedom, even if the only result of your protest and jail time is that people will know you are angry? Or consider what if things go horribly wrong and you get killed by a “protester” from the other side of the political spectrum, will your last thought be that you died doing what was right, or will it be that you wish you had stayed home?

There is a now famous photograph of the moment the car hit the crowd. In this photo (not shared here because I do not want to violate copyright), one of the victims of the crash is still in the air. His left leg is bent at an extremely awkward angle. His arms are outstretched to try to brace for the impact with the ground. But the look in his eyes is one of confusion and doubt. In my mind, I automatically ascribed a thought to the expression – why am I even here?

I could be wrong about that, but as one human being looking at the facial expression of another human being, I don’t think I am far off-base.

It would be cool if everyone could be nice, and understand each other, but right now people don’t want to understand – they want to dominate. If you can avoid this thought pattern, and if you can wean yourself off of the political brainwashing news source that you follow (I’m talking to people on both sides here), you can bring back some sanity into your life. These aren’t the answers that some people want, I know. But if you are going to be safe, but you want to go to political protests in your spare time, you need to rethink your priorities.

And a word in parting to the young people out there who feel a need to be a part of nonsense like this. You need to know two things going in. One; you will not achieve the results you hope to achieve. For all of the lip service given to the ephemeral starting a dialogue, rioting only further divides people and lessens the chance of any dialogue because the other side will see you as an animal completely devoid of logic. Two; There are people in power who will drive these demonstrations in a direction that makes violence inevitable. These people risk nothing because the angry youth are willing to riot and burn and kill and die, and they will use the mess to their own personal gain. You do not matter to them, which further emphasizes the pointlessness of the entire exercise.

In sum; don’t go to places where there is predictably going to be violence. If you find yourself in such a place, leave immediately. Never underestimate the level of violent insanity that large groups of people will commit when agitated, and don’t think that one psycho will not attack a group. If you want to make a difference, volunteer at a V.A. hospital or drive for Meals on Wheels. Put your energy into something productive. If you want to help people, actually help people. Don’t add to the reputation of a generation of people who know nothing other than an endless list of complaints. You can do and be so much more than that.

Martial Arts Cults

There are martial arts groups and organizations that engage in some borderline cult behavior. There are some that push things much further. Today I want to look at some of the characteristics that should be red flags that you are participating in a martial arts cult.

Cult status is going to require more than proclaiming that one style is superior to others or just asking for loyalty to the style. People everywhere find a sense of identity and belonging in the University they attended without even considering how long ago it was. Taking pride in your martial arts style is not harmful, it actually helps you to put more effort into what you are doing. Every style and school will try to help you find that sense of belonging and pride, and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

So how can we find those groups that cross the line into cult behavior?

One can start with taking a look at the leader of the martial arts group. Is this person demanding an absolute loyalty to his or her interpretation of the art, or to themselves personally? Cult leaders need to be held by their followers as being beyond question. You cannot question the validity of their teachings. Often, this is because they cannot prove their claims, but regardless of motivation, they must not be questioned.

Another thing that can identify a martial arts cult is the rules which dictate your life and decisions beyond martial arts training. This often falls under the classification of some form of Warrior Culture or another. While I am here, I will mention in passing that martial cults never get tired of using Warrior this and Warrior that. This is used or misused as a way to control your behavior, your outlook, and even your thinking. Controlling your behavior makes the group look they way they want to look. But control over your outlook and thinking keeps you from asking questions that might make you see through the game. Just as an example, there are martial arts groups that have rules regarding things that are none of their business such as your diet, hair style, interaction with your spouse, etc.

Every type of martial art has these types of cults – Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese – it is there. Not every organization is a cult, but the cults are everywhere and you can spot them if you look closely. Anytime they start to dictate your life and decisions outside of the training hall, put on the ol’ critical thinking cap and take a look around.

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Start Where You Are

If you are one of the lucky people who are a classic natural, congratulations, but you don’t need to read this one. This is for those of us who are imperfect and full of flaws and shortcomings.

Many people make unwarranted assumptions. For me, it is often assumed that because of my enormous size that I am automatically great at certain sports, basketball being the primary guess.

In fact, I am not naturally good at anything. I cannot think of anyone more naturally inept at everything than me.

But I do have one thing that has always allowed me to achieve some measure of success in some of the adventures in my life. I was always willing to work as hard as I had to to be successful whenever I thought there was a chance of success.

For those of us who are not naturally gifted, we will need to do the work. There was a time in my life where I hated the naturals. I was so jealous that if they were shown the right way to do something just once, they had it down. Whereas with me, you can explain it until your face turns blue, but I will understand it only with time. I always thought I was stupid, as I am sure that many other people do. But, much to the dismay of those who hate me, I am not stupid, I simply need to do things before I really understand. And there are more people in this category than there are those who get everything the first time.

You need to start where you are! If you get it right the first time, so much the better! But if it takes time and effort (the real translation of kung fu), then put in the required time and effort. You will still be able to be as good as anyone. Don’t worry about who gets there first, it isn’t a race. Physical skills take time and you need to start from where you are and take the path that works for you.

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A Texan walks into a bar with a sword on his hip…

…and gets arrested.

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Decisions, decisions, decisions.

There has been a lot of talk about the changes to Texas law concerning larger knives. I wrote an article recently on the subject, as I am excited that in Texas, the Bowie knife will no longer be considered illegal. Mostly. We have been allowed to purchase and own them, but we had to leave them at home.

There have been headlines like “Texas slashes knife restrictions” and so on. In some of the Left leaning websites, there was a certain disrespect being shown to those who would be happy about these changes. They included talk of carrying a spear everywhere and strapping a katana on their hip.

The old knife rules will still apply if you will be carrying a blade in certain places. Nothing over 5.5″ at schools, places of worship, or 51% establishments (businesses where 51% or more of their income is from the sale of alcohol). If you decide to bring a restricted knife into these places, it is a Class C Misdemeanor. All that I can find on this is there is a fine of up to $500, but no mention of jail time.

 

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Kershaw Black Horse (My EDC)

 

For me, this is all pretty simple. I can, and will, continue to carry my EDC knife. On occasions where it will be legal and venues where it will not scare the sheep, I might dust off the Bowie. The swords will be staying at home because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of busybodies thinking that they need to cause problems for me because of choosing to exercise the new laws which go into effect on September 1st of this year. However, for actual legal advice, consult an attorney. But please remember, just because it is legal to carry does not mean that someone will not call the Police. Be smart. One look at the sad state of our society as it stands should be enough to tell you that someone is going to have a problem with you carrying something that they don’t think you need to carry. And that sucks because I really want to carry my Gurkha Kukri every day.

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Tacti-cool or Practi-cool

A couple of years ago, my Wife purchased a cane for me. I didn’t need one at the time, but it was a safe bet that I would like it because it was no ordinary cane, it was an ax cane!

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Ever so Tacti-cool!

The edge is sharp as heck and the polymer construction makes it very sturdy. It is awesome! Even with the changes coming to laws here in Texas, this will still be illegal to take with me anywhere. Also, any of my Texas people who are overly excited about the law change, please note it is a little more complicated than it sounds. You still won’t be able to go everywhere you want with a Bowie knife on your hip. More on that in the coming weeks though…

As you know, provided you read this blog, I have had a couple of episodes of gout. Gout is no joke, the pain is really terrible, and depending on the joint affected, mobility becomes a challenge.

Obviously, working in a school, the Tacti-cool cane was out of the question. So, a hobbly trip to Wal-Mart and I had a much less cool cane, but much more useful.

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Not cool at all, but…

 

Sometimes you have to be realistic. Even when you want to be stubborn.

In the event I needed to protect myself or my Family, I would be able to hurt someone really bad with the ax, but would definitely be stopped by the Police before any such incident occurred. While inflicting severe damage to a bad guy with the practical cane would be more difficult, it is still doable, no one will think twice if they see me hobbling around with it. I will just look old. And grumpy.

Sometimes we need to look at practicality and opt for the less cool looking option. And while I am on the subject, trying to look tactical will just get you some attention, and probably not the kind of attention you want.

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Prioritize Reality

Recently I wrote an article and mentioned, just as an example, the way martial artists will bicker over minutia such as the proper way an attacker will hold a knife. This led to some follow-up emails. Most were friendly, some were whatta ya mean by this? 

So, I want to address this in a little more detail today. I hope some find this helpful!

When you attend a self-defense class, you might spend some time working on defense against a knife attack. There are two ways that they will emphasize the attacker’s grasp on the knife.

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Hand Under the Blade

 

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Hand Over the Blade

 

As to which option will be used by the dreaded untrained attacker, well, that changes from school to school. I suppose it matters what school the attacker was untrained in. Edges are sharp and points are pointy. If the person holding the knife knows this, they can cut, stab, and possibly kill you. I had lunch once with a professed knife expert who managed to scatter corn all over the table as he struggled to cut it off of the cob. When I sliced the corn off of the cob on my plate and lost no kernels at all, he asked me, in utter amazement, how I did that. I told him that I let the knife to do the heavy lifting. He gave a confused look and continued talking about his amazing skills. But, I digress.

By the time the knife is in your line of sight, you have either not been paying attention, or you have missed all of those exit signs on the highway to hell.

Here is where my red flags are:

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Nothing in my Hands (I Promise)

 

When you can’t see both hands, you need to do something. Exactly what that is will depend on you and your training, but this is the point to focus your attention on. I want to be able to see both of your hands. To me, if one is hidden, you are a threat until I know otherwise.

This is why I say that the arguments over hand positioning of the knife are trivialities. There are a series of events leading up to that moment, and until you reach a certain point, there are opportunities to turn things around.

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