By Charles Warren
You may be a first responder at any time. The question is, how will you respond? When trouble is right now, the police are at least minutes away. I grew up bullied. I probably earned some of it, being a smarty. Not being large or particularly well-coordinated contributed. But being fairly small and not awfully coordinated, I gravitated toward weapons. One of my bullies taught me a lesson by stealing all of them, then escalating the persecution. Of course I reported the theft, which included a stamp collection, to the police. No joy. My bully was also pretty expert at concealing loot. The bottom line is that weapons are only as dangerous as you are, and if you think the police are the answer, look at the clearance rate for your local crimes. You might even consider buying some officers coffee and doughnuts. Chat them up on the subject.
I discovered a technique when I reached high school — berserk. I won a wrestling tournament with it. After spending my youth feeling picked on, it was easy to channel all that anger, frustration and sense of injustice. On the mat, it was very effective. Off the mat, people ceased to be interested in finding out. In my 20s I moved to the wrong neighborhood. I’m white. My ex-wife isn’t. We weren’t welcome. I decided to improve my fighting skills. By chance I came across aikido. Forty years later I feel more coordinated and have demonstrated ability to handle myself in real life situations. That is not to say I think aikido is a kick-ass fighting style. It is more un-fighting. I think the best analogy in the “real world” was Guderian’s Ardennes offensive of 1940. It ended the war in France in a couple of weeks. So aikido, whatever some folks may say, isn’t nonviolent, even if the violence involved may, like real blitzkrieg, be minimal compared to the results. Guderian wrote his memoirs in Spandau and said that blitzkrieg was to achieve victory with minimal bloodshed. The founder of aikido had even higher aims, but accessible at a personal scale. Today I might recommend you start with a kung fu style. Move to judo, and on to aikido if you want, as post-graduate school. Few aikido dojos teach it as a martial art anymore. Why am I talking about martial arts? If you plan to resist aggression, wouldn’t it be good to have some less-lethal tools at your disposal? Even the police are too inclined to escalate immediately to weapons. Especially in California, that can get you in a lot of trouble. In any case, shooting is a martial art. If you approach it in the same way as judo, that would be a good way to learn.
Guns, loosely termed, are tools. One of my few natural skills is shooting. My (few) youthful pals had .22 rifles. I could out-shoot them. While my parents felt I shouldn’t be anywhere near guns, there was a rifle range fairly nearby. The owner, Bob Hutton, took me in and taught me a lot. Then my mom got me a summer job on a ranch where I learned more. Like any tool, training and practice are critical to appropriate and effective use. I don’t shoot much these days, but not from distaste, just circumstances. I was directed toward your piece on gun ownership by Dan Gifford, who has a little newsletter for people who own and use arms.
My reactions to your gun purchase experience are —1. I’m surprised you didn’t run into law enforcement folks at the store. I usually see one or more on my fairly rare visits. 2. I’m surprised you allowed yourself to be talked into a 9mm as a beginner’s piece. I would recommend .22. It’s cheaper and less abusive to shoot. Yes, for self-defense purposes it might not be ideal, but really isn’t a bad compromise. For home defense, consider a rifle or shotgun. When empty it can be used as a club. 3. Firearms training is available. If you decide that defending your life, family, the public are goals to which you aspire, you will need to train. 4. Hearing protection — I prefer both plugs and earmuffs for practice at the range.
The majority of people don’t have life experience that makes martial endeavor seem relevant. That is wonderful. Some of us haven’t been so blessed. The underlying fallacy here is that ultimately you cannot defend yourself. Nobody gets out (of life) alive. If you sincerely pray “death before dishonor,” that may be granted to you. The question then becomes, how difficult will it be to kill you? The flip side of that coin is that killing has a cost, if only a large amount of paperwork. So are you and is the situation worth it? The skill then becomes avoiding situations where the simplest thing to do is kill you. Asymmetric strategy. The Bible asserts that those who live by the sword die by it. Would you rather cancer? … and Jesus counseled his disciples to have some swords among them.
If your bad experience of aggression comes as an adult, the shock will probably be serious. It may require therapy. Martial arts may be more effective and less expensive than a psychologist. You will also probably get health benefits. One of the good things about aikido is that you can do it all your life. Ukemi waza (falling arts) is possibly the most salient skill in aikido … once you learn the old American rule — “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” I’ve fallen down at least t10 times, maybe a hundred times, more frequently than I’ve been in any sort of confrontation. Consider, however, the old samurai maxim, “Why study martial arts for 30 years? You will only become an artist. You can be a samurai right now.”
Self-defense, however misnamed, is a personal choice. You can bring “guns” into your life, but without martial spirit and training it may be a bit like my son at the flea market. Once, he brought home a bolt cutter 3 feet long. He has no use for it. He has no idea what it’s good for, but it seemed like a good bargain at the time. If you make the choice to free yourself from personal threats through becoming a warrior, firearms are a useful tool. Do be careful of the spider web of “reasonable” laws which constrain your choice. F
Charles Warren is a resident of Pleasant Hill, California.