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"Stay 'unreasonable.' If you
don't like the solutions [available to you], come up with your
The Martialist does not
constitute legal advice. It is for ENTERTAINMENT
Copyright © 2003-2004 Phil Elmore, all rights reserved.
Cunning-Hammery: The Martialist Responds to Don Cunningham
By Phil Elmore
Even before the debut of this e-zine, The Martialist was the subject of vocal criticism from Don Cunningham, respected author of Secret Weapons of Jujutsu. Mr. Cunningham recently began publishing articles at his personal website that would seem directed at this publication and those who read it. While we bear no ill will for Mr. Cunningham and understand that he feels strongly about what he writes, the staff of The Martialist cannot help but take issue with his public statements.
The first editorial Mr. Cunningham wrote does not mention this publication. It does not, in fact, name many names at all, which makes Mr. Cunningham's assessments of the opinions, experience, and actions of those studying with the anonymous "combative martial arts organizations" he indicts a matter of the reader's speculation. It is easy to make mistakes when generalizing in this fashion, accidentally creating straw men who are all too easily knocked down with great drama. Given that Mr. Cunningham identifies no one in the article, we must give him the benefit of the doubt.
In my opinion, however, the editorial is flawed. It appears to me to be a string of unsupported assertions strung together with a few valid criticisms of the martial arts community. It includes more than one reasonable observation about "martial" sports and their practitioners, but ultimately it takes the reader nowhere. That is the limitation of criticizing individuals one does not name.
Mr. Cunningham's online discussions at e-budo.com and that first editorial inspired our question and answer section, the queries in which are generalized versions of issues raised by those who share Mr. Cunningham's skeptical view of combatives exponents. The first issue of The Martialist touches on several of these same themes in multiple editorials.
At e-budo, however, Mr. Cunningham had this to say about The Martialist and its publisher:
What's really funny here is that [Phil] has set himself up for even more trouble if something ever should happen. ...[S]uppose [Phil] is attacked on the street and stabs his assailant. For purposes of argument, let's assume even more provocation, for example, he is attacked by three men, all armed with sticks and chains, and as result, he kills one of them with a knife.
Okay, the first thing the Assistant District Attorney is going to do is look into his motivations. If he reads any of [Phil]'s rantings on his web site... there is probably sufficient grounds to show premeditation. Basically, the ADA would claim that [Phil] had thought about his response prior to the incident and his actions were based on his personal moral philosophy.
Instead of a simple manslaughter charge, [Phil] would now find himself facing a murder charge, a much more serious offense.
This could even be extended to anyone who has trained with [Phil] or even subscribers to his magazine. All the ADA has to do is show that there is sufficient reason to believe they had considered their actions prior to the incident and decided beforehand what they would do, in this case, kill or maim another person. They even went so far as to arm themselves with a weapon just in case of such an event.
Mr. Cunningham may, in fact, be correct. Think about the implications of that attitude. If you seek out instruction, if you carry a weapon, if you train in anything but strictly nonlethal fighting techniques and you understand the aggressive mindset necessary to defeat multiple armed attackers, you may indeed be burned at the stake for your forbidden knowledge and for the unacceptable morality you have embraced.
Is this really what the "ADA" would think? What is the nature of this Catch-22? Few of us would deny that a "martial" sports practitioner has little chance of successfully defending himself from three armed attackers. If a combatives exponent who does succeed through vicious aggression in the face of potentially lethal assault will be hanged from the mast of his devotion to the very combatives that saved his life, why not simply lie down and cut one's own throat with one's tactical folding knife right now?
This is the nature of the very difficult decisions we all must make when faced with violence. What is reasonable to us and what will appear reasonable to a jury, judging our actions after the fact from the safety of a courtroom, may diverge. We will suffer the social sanctions and the legal punishments for choosing unwisely, for behaving recklessly or "excessively," for knowingly breaking the law without justification. No one in the martial arts community would deny that, I think.
As you will read repeatedly in the pages of The Martialist, you must make the choice. We pray fervently that you will not be forced to do so. We understand that there exists the possibility that you might.
We hope you do the right thing.
The second of Mr. Cunningham's articles takes aim at this site specifically, quoting a portion of it:
Most of the popular martial arts magazines are full of advertisements using emotionally charged scare tactics to attract students. ...Such rhetoric is not limited to the print media, either. For example, the following is is an actual quote from an Internet website devoted to self-defense:
"The attitude of martialism [sic] is predicated on the idea that society is full of predators. These predators can and will injure and violate you to take from you that which they have not earned."
"Some of society’s predators covet your property. Some desire your body. Some simply hate you for being you. All will use violence against you (or they would not be predators)."
"In a world of 'martial' artists who support gun control, consultants who preach the Gospel of Victimization, and complex or even silly fighting systems with no relevance to today's world, many individuals come to the conclusion that to fight fairly is to be more vulnerable to defeat. All self-defense involves risk. The martialist [sic] understands that to take every advantage possible is to hedge his or her bets -- to better the odds of success in the face of an attack."
Such unsubtle appeals are reminiscent of the old bodybuilder advertisements, where the stereotypical bully kicks sand in the face of the 90-pound weakling before walking off with his beautiful girlfriend.
Of course, such "unsubtle appeals" are not comic book advertisements at all, but realistic assessments of the world in which we live. Consider, for example, the informed comments of J. Kelly McCann, CEO of Crucible Security Specialists. Writing as Jim Grover, he made these comments in Street Smarts, Firearms, & Personal Security:
"Simply put, you must pay attention to your personal security. Failure to do so may result in total tragedy for you or your family. If you don't pay at least nominal attention to your personal security, then you deserve what comes your way.
"The crime rate right now (1999) is lower than it's been since the mid 1960s. However, the incidence of violence in those crimes is much higher -- less crime, more violence. The FBI has amassed statistics that tell us a person generally stands a six percent chance in his or her lifetime of being victimized in some way. Of course, all statistics are capable of manipulation and don't normally reflect the reality of any given situation. The fact is that if your experience in that six percent includes a stabbing which results in your requiring a colostomy, that mere six percent becomes pretty life altering. If it includes a nonconfrontational property crime -- your mailbox gets destroyed by vandals, for example -- you got off easy.
"This is not melodramatic, just truthful, prudent, and appropriately concerned."
Mr. Cunningham went on to call the "emotionally charged tactics" of the introduction to this site appeals to "our innermost fears and insecurities. We all want to believe that if we just use a certain brand, we'll be more attractive and successful. Marketing specialists understand this and use it to promote their products all the time. ...When examining the facts, though, the premise that predators lurk everywhere and we are all subject to constant dangers really has no basis in reality."
No basis in reality? Think about that for a moment. Stating plainly that society is full of predators isn't a paranoid assertion, emotional hyperbole, or a marketing ploy. It's a fact. If you can look around and honestly state that you don't believe our society (I am American and speak only about the United States) contains a significant criminal element that preys on our citizens with regularity, you're living in denial. You don't believe the news reports of shootings, stabbings, rapes, burglaries, and robberies that appear every day in the media. You don't believe the tales of your friends, relatives, and fellow citizens who all seem to know someone who's been robbed or assaulted or found themselves in an extremely threatening situation for which they felt unprepared.
When you disbelieve in this manner you are evading reality -- refusing to see something you don't wish to see. This is understandable -- for the reality in which we find ourselves, the reality of violence and of the potential threats that exist within society, is unpleasant. It is not a nice thing to think about and it does not make us happy. We do not get to choose to believe only those things we want to believe, however.
Mr. Cunningham's editorial continues as follows::
"Society is full of predators..." On what facts does the author base this assumption? Most would point to media reports, stories related by other victims, or even personal experiences. Yet, this is anecdotal evidence at best and has no scientific or logical validity.
...Of course there really are predators within our society. Certainly they exist. One should be prudent and take reasonable precautions. The point, though, is what is prudent and reasonable? How much should one be concerned?
...To be constantly concerned that you might be a victim at any moment based on anecdotal evidence or such flagrant emotionally charged scare tactics is just as unreasonable as refusing to fly because you heard about a plane crash.
Yes, as Mr. Cunningham admits, there are predators within society. Yes, as Mr. Cunningham admits, they do exist. They exist in sufficient numbers, in fact, to make the statement "Society is full of predators" a rational and logically supportable one. One could choose to ignore all these pieces of evidence, yes. One could choose to ignore the statistics for the murder rate in one's city and for national rates of violent crime. One could proclaim the data of one's senses and the accumulated crime figures for an entire country to be media sensationalism and illogical, hysterical interpretation of events far less harmful than our fearful assessment indicates.
One would be ill-advised to do so.
Check your premises, as Ayn Rand was fond of urging. Ask yourself if you would leave your child unsupervised in the food court of the average shopping mall. Ask yourself if you would leave the doors of your home unlocked at night. Ask yourself if you wouldn feel comfortable walking through a parking garage shrouded in darkness. Ask yourself if you would roll down your windows and chat with a homeless man if he approached your car when you were stopped at a light.
If you answered "no" to any of those questions, I have just one more:
Recognizing that there are people who will prey on you if given the opportunity -- and that there are people who seek to make those opportunities -- is not paranoid hysteria. It is merely realistic. Preparing to meet emergencies that have not yet occurred is not paranoid or mentally unbalanced. It is prudent.
Have you ever purchased life insurance? You don't actually think you're going to die soon, do you? Have you ever purchased a handgun and obtained a license to carry it? You don't actually think there are home invaders hiding in your shrubbery right now, do you?
I tell you now that it is very possible you'll get through your entire life never being confronted by someone who means you harm or who seeks to take what you have earned. I hope you do. Unfortunately, the possibility that you won't is also real. It is measurable. You should not expect to face rampaging barbarian hordes the second you leave the relative safety of your home -- but neither should you think, "It can't happen to me." The list of martial artists and others who have lost fights and had their lives forever changed because they were naïve enough to assume this is a long one.
Those who understand the risks life entails also understand that they must hedge their bets and be prepared for possible dangers. They do not stockpile illegal weapons. They do not dig foxholes in their flowerbeds. They do not sit at home sweating bullets and aiming firearms at passing cars from beneath ghillie suits knitted from their living-room curtains. They do, however, think carrying firearms or other weapons suitable for personal protection is a reasonable action. They understand that a society increasingly hostile to individual self-defense, regardless of whatever lip service that society pays to recognizing your right to preserve your life, may indeed punish them should they make the choice to use force -- no matter how justified they might believe themselves to be.
The legal penalties for one's actions cannot be ignored. Learn them. Know them. Remember them. Make informed choices.
Where preparation is concerned, however, err on the side of caution. No doubt the grasshopper considered the ant "paranoid," too. Charges of "paranoia" and "hysteria" are very common when those who are not prepared face those who are. This is understandable. We are uncomfortable when confronted with others' superior abilities to cope. We rationalize our own lack of effort or lack of ability in order to evade the cognitive dissonance we feel. Noted firearms columnist Jeff Cooper commented on it thusly:
In my opinion, neither money nor greed (cupiditas) is the root of all evil. The root of all evil is envy. The non-coper hates the coper, and thus the non-shooter hates the shooter. I see no other explanation for the pointless and irrational activism of the gun grabbers on the political scene. They know that their machinations can have no effect upon crime. Guns have no effect upon crime, but they do make all men equal, as the saying goes. This puts the coper on top, and infuriates the non-coper.
Mr. Cunningham's second editorial also touches on instructors and the advice they provide:
The problem with assuming "many" unnamed "experts" are leading their students down the garden path of self-destruction is that A) there is no way to know whom Mr. Cunningham is indicting, as every instructor is different; and B) the issue sidesteps the responsibility of the student to evaluate what he or she is learning and to think about what is being taught.
...Many so-called self-defense experts are actually encouraging illegal actions, often without realizing the full ramifications of their ill advice.
At no time does the student have the luxury to allow a teacher or another student to think for him or for her. You must apply critical thinking to everything you do. Many students assume their instructor won't try to get them into bed by exerting pressure on them -- pressure made possible by his position of authority. Many students assume their instructor won't teach them a knife defense technique that will get them killed should they ever try it. Many students assume the sport they are studying translates into at least some ability to assert themselves physically and defend themselves when necessary -- despite the protestations of their gi-clad gym teachers.
You cannot afford to assume.
The broad charge Mr. Cunningham makes also ignores direct evidence to the contrary. James A Keating, noted arms instructor, wrote an article in this very magazine in which he indicts portions of the combative and traditional martial art community while expressing a very high regard for the legalities and moralities of self-defense and lethal force. Sammy Franco, in his book First Strike: Mastering the Preemptive Strike for Street Combat, spends considerable time discussing the legal ramifications and the strict justifications of and for using force against another person. These are only two examples. Most of the literature produced by the portion of the martial arts community Mr. Cunningham indicts touches on, if it does not deal with at length, issues of legality and morality.
The fact is that no corner of the martial arts community is untouched by poor teaching or questionable advice. The numerous incidents of students being sexually exploited, physically abused, or emotionally mistreated by instructors (traditional, "combative," sport, or otherwise) in the martial arts contradict the notion that this problem is specific to, or a product of, "combative" teaching.
Mr. Cunningham goes on to say this:
Some rationalize their responses with a false moral
imperative, even recommending their students take the initiative if necessary
to prevent a potential assault. In other words, "a good attack is the
best possible defense" or "you have the moral right to respond
violently to any perceived threat."
Some rationalize their responses with a false moral imperative, even recommending their students take the initiative if necessary to prevent a potential assault. In other words, "a good attack is the best possible defense" or "you have the moral right to respond violently to any perceived threat."
Note the use of hyperbole that makes the opinion sound unreasonable. 'Any' perceived threat? Most genuine teachers would say something along the lines of, "You have the moral right to respond violently to the credible threat of violence." That sounds remarkably less reckless, now, doesn't it?
For that matter, who would consider false the moral imperative to defend one's person from harm? After a lengthy discussion of social contracts, societal convention, "reasonable" versus "excessive" force, and morality, Mr. Cunningham concludes his editorial as follows:
To suggest any individual has the moral authority to defy society’s unwritten rules of conduct or written codes is irresponsible. Who determines what moral authority is in this case?
Think about that horrific statement for a moment. It is "irresponsible" to suggest any individual might defy unwritten rules?
Was Harriet Tubman, who actively resisted society's written rules to steal the property of slave owners, an "irresponsible" person? Who was Rosa Parks to defy "society's unwritten rules" (or its written ones), to defy societal convention in refusing to be pushed aside by a racist who had the support of society's morality? Who the hell was Oskar Schindler that he thought he could go around bribing people and breaking the laws of his society, violating his social contract with law-abiding German citizens?
Suggesting that societal conventions are immutable is what I would consider irresponsible. If society can never be wrong, no societal ills can be challenged, no unjust laws actively resisted -- for the challengers will be shouted down as immoral for daring to dissent. Such attitudes lead to pyres feeding on the bodies of so-called heretics.
Moral authority, for that matter, isn't granted by some agency from whom we must petition it. Moral authority is a function of reality -- of logic applied to that reality. A person who initiates force against you is violating objective moral principles and thus surrendering his or her sovereignty through that violation.
It is not irresponsible to understand these moral principles -- or to believe the default "morality" of the collective, of society, of majority opinion, is not always right simply because it is "society." It would be equally irresponsible, of course, to ignore the law or to encourage others to ignore the legal consequences of their actions.
Mr. Cunningham is well-known in certain martial circles and we wish him the best. His work is even cited in the first issue of this magazine. We cannot, however, agree with the opinions he expresses. The staff of this magazine believes you are responsible for your actions and intelligent enough to weigh the consequences of your decisions. No one can do this for you.
The choice is yours.
It always was.