Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sensei Giri

Sensei Giri or Obligation of an instructor

Giri (義理) is a Japanese value roughly corresponding to "duty", "obligation", or even "burden of obligation" in English.

The burden of obligation an Instructor has to a student is something I’ve been thinking about lately.

Let’s start with some personal history and work our way back to the topic.  When I first started teaching cops, my classes were fairly complicated.  Not only that but they were mostly text book Aikido and Judo classes.  Even then part of me knew that there was no way I could get these guys proficient in a couple of hours a year.  But I thought they would see how good I am/ how easy it was for me, want to improve, and train on their own time (with me at the Dojo).  Looking back now I can see how arrogant that was.

A hard, but enlightening realization I had was, that if these guys wanted to be skilled in empty hand combative measures they already would be.

Sneaky little secret is that it isn’t all that hard.  Find a good teacher, train regularly, work hard.

(Hell, that is the corner stone of the book I’m writing)

Anyone can do it, so how come these guys haven’t?

They simply don’t want to.  They do not have the desire.  No pounding I give them on the mat, no amount of leading by example, and no amount of encouragement is going to instill them with that desire.

It took me a long time to figure out why.  It was pointed out to me that I am addicted to training, and I can’t disagree.  As addictions go, it’s not a bad one to have.  But I have to understand I am an addict and look at the situation through an addict’s eyes.  I’m an addict wondering why others aren’t addicted and why they don’t act like other addicts

That knowledge was hard won, but knowledge is power and changed the way I teach.

I will never make them like me, I have to help them become better thems.

(I don’t even know if thems is a word just go with me I’m on a roll)

That is my obligation.  Now it is still a burr under my saddle because the people I teach lives may depend on what I am teaching them.  One would think that with the stakes that high it is not too much to ask them to do a little something on their own to save their own lives.

Even so, that doesn’t change the burden of my obligation.  If anything it makes it heavier.  If you are unwilling to do anything to increase your chances of survival, I must do more to make you capable of protecting yourself.

It would be very easy for me to teach skills that only work for young, strong, fit, men.  Easy for me to mock and ridicule those officers that are incapable of doing those techniques.  Then send them back to the streets with the knowledge that I’m awesome and they suck

That would be easy.  In fact because it is easy that is what the majority of cop training is like.  But how could I live with myself if the day comes that the cop that never trains, never works out, finds himself in a violent physical confrontation and they only thing they can do is think I suck at this, I’m dead.

Boy I really showed him right.  I bet he wishes he could go back in time and hit the gym with me, go to the dojo with me.

I’m sure that will be a great comfort to his widow or his orphans.

Two very close friends of mine, both outstanding Instructors have been to the funerals of cops they trained.  That experience has stuck with them, changed them.  All heroes have scars, not all scars can be seen.

Side note

As long as I’m ranting and on a roll there is something I’ve wanted to write for a while.

If you don’t have scars

If all your joints work the way they are supposed to

If you have never cleaned up stuff that is supposed to stay indise a human body

If you have never been to the funeral of a friend or colleage that was murdered

Then you haven’t lived “the life”.  That is a good thing, don’t by any means be ashamed of that.  Many people who live the life wish they didn’t.

Don’t be ashamed of it, but don’t pretend to be something you are not.

 I don’t care how many tattoos you have

I don’t care how much training you have or the cornucopia of martial arts you have experience in

I don’t care how many fights you won in 4th grade

I don’t care how much “door” experience you have at upper middle class suburban bars

Don’t act like some urban commando bad ass.  Don’t teach edged weapons or fire arms defenses because you’ve never done it.  Don’t advertise yourself as some sort of paramilitary guru to make cash.  Because the people you are training trust you.  Can you live with yourself if your bullshit gets them killed, or a life in prison?

I can’t, and that brings us back to the obligation of a teacher

Even if it is more work.  Even if it is exponentially more work than they are willing to do themselves.  You have the obligation to make them competent.

You have to be good enough to see their inherent shortcomings and find things that work for them.

You can’t put them back on the street until their competence raises to the point where they are confident in their skills.

That is a tough burden to bear, if you can’t do it don’t teach operators.

I was tempted to end the blog there, but I’m a positive guy.  I’m not going to end on a negative.

So, how does one go about finding things that work for them?

A couple of things that have worked for me.

Make sure they bhave a through understanding of use of force policy especially Subject / Officer factors

Factors (except for gender) go both ways.




Special Knowledge (like you know this guys likes to fight cops, or he is a golden gloves champ)




With this information they will understand that they will need a much higher level of force to prevail and that they are justified in using that higher level of force.

Make sure they are free of a sport / fair play mindset.  They might say I could never take this guy.  And in a boxing match, wrestling match, or any fair fight they would be right

"I'll kill a man in a fair fight, or if I think he is gonna start one"
- Jayne "Serenity"

So you need to make sure that they never “fight fair”. 

If you can get them to see the subject as a collection of anatomical weakness to be exploited should the need arise, you have given them more practical skills then memorizing any physical technique.

It is a tough burden to bear, but somebody has to do it.

A student gives the teacher a couple of hours a week.  A teacher gives the his student his entire life

Train hard, Train smart, Be safe (try to make it a little easier for those that teach you)


  1. I LIKE it! Never teach anything that could get your student killed.

  2. Say, Marc, is that the reason you won't let us spar with the green fairy?

    Kasey, a question: is a cop who won't train more than those 2h/year likely to actually grok what you tell him or will he put about as much effort in understanding it?

    Take care.

  3. Awesome blog!
    As far as senseis go... oyou always go above and beyond the call of duty.

  4. shugyosha,

    I push them only as far as they can go. I have learned to recognize the signs of when the tea cup is full if you smell what I'm cooking.

    I have found that if you make it fun you can push guys pretty hard but only for about an hour at a time. If they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, know a break is coming, they will work harder. If they don't know how long they have to go they will just quit when the start to get tired.

    Good question, in fact that will be a blog of mine in the non too distant future

    p.s. what the hell does grok mean?

  5. Kasey, thanks.

    Grok, from "Stranger in a strange land" [Heinlein]: to comprehend fully, to the extent that makes it part of yourself. To "own".

    Sorry. I'd been told it had entered US English mainstream.

    Take care