88. Dogs and Wolves and Budo

Every so often, no matter how much we try to avoid it, current events have a way of barging into the dojo. The recent Boston Marathon Bombings is one of those events in the minds of many Americans. We’re not used to terrorist attacks on our own soil, albeit we’ve had our share of it over the past couple of decades. I’m sure it’s been the topic of conversation before and after some training sessions, and even during breaks.

How do we make sense of it in the light of martial arts?

I tend to look at terrorists and any criminal attacks on civilians and the appropriate response by law enforcement and military authorities the way Lt. Col. David Grossman (http://www.killology.com/) likens it. His analogy is not totally appropo, I think, but it does put things into a really interesting and useful perspective to start a discussion. The following is based on Grossman’s analogy, although any misunderstandings of his ideas are purely my own fault.

 Grossman likens the general public, law enforcement (or military, or any emergency/rescue/survival official) and criminals (predators) to the interplay of sheepdogs, wolves and sheep. Predators like wolves will constantly circle a herd of domesticated animals, waiting for a chance to attack them. The many cattle, sheep or other such herd animals, like their predators, have four legs, teeth and hooves or claws, but they simply are not bred or capable of protecting themselves other than the flight or faint reaction. “Fighting” to protect themselves is usually not possible given their weaker and smaller jaws and claws. (The analogy does break down, for example, if you talk about elephants, whose sheer size can do damage to smaller predators like lions, or other herd animals with antlers or other such features that can do damage. And let’s not forget beavers. Recently, one of those seemingly innocuous creatures killed a man who got to close by using its incisors to bite him in the femoral artery. Don’t anger the beaver.) The shepherd therefore employs sheepdogs to guard and protect the herd.

The thing is, the DNA of dogs and wolves are over 99 percent similar. They are so similar that they can, in fact, manage to interbreed given the proper circumstances. So while they do have physical differences, such has dogs having slightly smaller incisor teeth and wider, flatter faces, what’s there to stop a dog from attacking the same herd it is supposed to guard? It’s breeding and training. In the human counterpart, it’s attitude, ethos and goals. Predators and protectors are totally different kinds of people, although they share many different traits. The sharing of traits, however, is the danger zone for protectors.

 Or, as one friend in self-defense training joked about it to me, “The closest thing to criminals are cops. Both like to drive around in cars all day scoping out the joints, both carry guns, boss people around, and drink a lot of coffee.”

It may be a joke, but reflecting back on Grossman’s metaphor (or is it an analogy?), there are, in fact, similarities between our guardians and the predators of human society, just as there are superficial similarities between dogs and wolves. Both tend to carry deadly armament, or have the expectation of the use of force in carrying out some of their profession. Both are, in fact, trained to react to violence, whether it’s through training in law enforcement or military boot camp, or in the mean streets of violence and abusive behavior.

But all such similarities end, as all such similarities end when you discuss dogs and wolves, when you talk about motivation, goals and loyalties. A guardian of society, whether it be a member of the military, law enforcement, or even fire/rescue, medical, educational…any kind of professional who renders service to the public, does so as a service, as an aid to the public. They have a calling, and that calling is to help other people in need. To protect the defenseless, to aid the weak, to rescue those in danger. They will go to danger to succor and comfort the public. They are trained to react to emergencies or problematic situations by confronting them and trying to stop them. It can mean stopping the bleeding of a wounded bystander, or firing shots at a psychopath who is intent on blowing up more people, or helping a patient into a wheelchair. They do not have the option of running away. They are trained to help, to go to the problem, to protect and defend. They go to danger to help others.

The predator, however, will actively court dangerous situations in order to get what he/she wants, whether it’s attacking a weaker family member, a total stranger, or society in general. The predator is not out to stop violence, he’s actively looking to create disruption and violence to get what he wants. It could be for a radicalized cause, for greed, for personal gain, but it’s basically selfish goals, for his self, never mind the pain and suffering it can cause others.

Both predator and guardian, however, circle around the dark attraction of aggression and violence, whether it is social, verbal or physical. The attraction of violence, so vivid in so many movies and computer games, is something that a guardian has to watch out for, because only a paper-thin barrier stands between the attitudes of a guardian versus a predator. A gun on the hip of a guardian, for example, can be used to protect the life and limb of citizens. In the hands of a predator, however, it can threaten, intimidate, wound and murder. It’s like sharp fangs and claws. Both dogs and wolves have them, but they are put to different uses.

Therefore, the need for law enforcement officers to live up to an even higher standard of behavior than the general public is a necessary draconian rule, else they fall into corruption and criminal behavior. Likewise, soldiers who slaughter innocents and who torture and abuse civilians or prisoners debase their military tradition, and in so doing become nothing more than uniformed terrorists, losing their pride as a military unit with a traditional heritage of service.

 When any military resorts to debasing its code of conduct, it loses its discipline and core characteristics, hence the need for military courts passing out harsh retribution to soldiers who abuse their responsibilities as combatants.  The guardians cannot become the predators.

 Some martial artists like to think of themselves as “warriors,” emblazoning their keikogi with logos and patches that are like military insignia, such as crossed swords, stripes denoting rank, and so on, but that’s not necessarily the case. We martial arts folk don’t go to combat, unless we are also soldiers or law enforcement officers.  What we do train for, however, and how this essay has relevance for martial artists, is that while we are not necessarily warriors, proper training should inculcate in us the mind and heart of a “warrior” in that we deal with facing up to stylized combative situations (i.e. moments of stress) and, through repetition, learn to mentally and physically deal with them without totally falling apart.

Of course, it’s very rare that a criminal may come at you with a samurai sword or a wooden staff. More likely, it will be a short pocketknife, “Saturday Night Special” pistol, or an assault rifle. But we train for keeping our cool in physical or mental encounters that trouble us nonetheless, and the abstracted action and reaction trains our minds, often, more than our bodies. In that way, the training is like training a dog to learn how to be a dog, to guard and protect a flock or herd rather than have it revert to its wolfish nature and attack the herd it is meant to protect.

The direct aftermath of the two bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon was recorded by numerous cameras and video equipment. In the midst of the chaos and carnage, one gratifying thing to see was that many everyday, average people immediately ran to help the wounded, rather than trample away like frightened cattle. It was as if the “herd” wasn’t just a herd, it was full of guardians of all stripes and colors, willing to sacrifice their own safety to help those in need.

What proper budo training should do is cultivate that kind of mind: the willingness to serve and protect, not just in a fight or tournament, but in everyday life, and in such emergencies. The danger is that martial arts training can easily be turned on its head if the goals are only slightly changed, and it becomes a spawning ground for psychopaths with a fixation on violence, for making better bullies and thugs. It can be the same martial art system, but only a slight tweak in the methodology and goals will create better predators rather than braver altruistic members of society.

In our modern American urban and suburban lifestyle, we tend towards a sedate culture that avoids actual violence as a means of getting our way. Hence, a common reaction to blatant violence used to be either the “flight or faint” reaction, or just immobility through disbelief that it is really happening. Terrorism and other random acts of violence has become so commonly reported in the news these days that I think the general public has been roused from their complacency. Yet, I still think that properly conducted budo training can help us deal with confronting such extraordinary events of destruction, whether human-made or natural.

And if done long enough, I suspect we end up like old, grizzled doggies ourselves, sleeping by the fireplace of our human masters, happily dreaming of younger days when we protected our master’s houses and yard with our big barks and show of fangs and claws. In that way, maybe Grossman’s analogy is truer than he thinks. I kind of feel like an old, lazy dog myself nowadays.





19 thoughts on “88. Dogs and Wolves and Budo

  1. Wayne, I have been a follower and ardent believer of Grossman’s writings for some time now. I first learned of his name when I was reading one of his first articles he wrote after retirement from the military.

    He was packing and preparing for a scheduled presentation at one of the Alaskan bases about his theory of warriorship.

    It was the day of the Jonesboro Arkansas school shooting. He lived in Jonesboro and new that as a professional psychologist he knew not only the physical trauma but the emotional effects of such an incident would have on his neighbors, friends, and first responders. But he had his orders. And yet, he had a 14 year old son at that school. His actions were typical budo. Giri, ON Gimu, Ninjo.

  2. The day after they caught McVeigh (Nichols I believe wasn’t caught yet) for bombing of the Murrah Fed. Building, my sensei commented in broken and limited English to the class, that McVeigh would not have committed such a horrible and sinister act if he would have came to his dojo to train. Then he proceed to define that with stories of a kid on the wrong path in his village in Japan. The bad kid was forced into the strict and highly disciplined dojo that my sensei attended, to build his character. My sensei that day was defining the purpose of budo.

    My sensei never spoke or used the word warrior. He never associated warrior in any context outside the modern military, and never with the art or himself. For him, budo wasn’t about being a so-called “warrior,” it was about developing character.

    During WWII, my sensei was too young for military service. He was old enough to understand the motives of Japan military, and understood the military way of life. He also understood and was influenced by Japan’s post war change as well. The latter could be the reason for his budo philosophy; budo is a means of character development, people being better citizens, rather than teaching people to be warriors as his father and ancestors had been trained and lived.

    I have left the school, and not talked to my sensei about the Boston Bombing, but I know just as the other acts of terror this country has experienced in the past decades, he would have said the same thing as he did about McViegh. And, if we would have learned anything from him, we would understand such acts of violence is immoral and beyond being reprehensible. We as his students would have done nothing less then give our all in helping those injured that day without a second thought, because that is what are training is all about.

    *note, what I am saying in terms of character building relates strongly to an aspect of Japanese culture. If you are well versed with the Japanese people, society and culture past, and present what I am saying adds more complexity to what I am saying. The Japanese didn’t start focusing on character development only in dojos in foreign lands. I say this to add depth to the importance of a better society, and it’s development. With all the terror attacks and mass killings we have been experiencing maybe we can learn more from the Japanese than how to fight with someone, or FWIW, Kumon.

  3. We’ve identified the wolves, the sheep, and the dog. I can’t help but wonder… who/what takes the role of the shepherd? In the end, if they survive the prowling attacK of the wolf… what happens to the sheep?

    1. Good questions. It is easy to keyboard criticize, but I am not completely fond of Lt. Col. David Grossman’s metaphor or the idea behind it. Despite that, I do agree with Grossman in many areas.

      If we follow Grossman’s ideas, it tends to lead us into an unresolvable issue; a cyclic pattern that doesn’t have a resolution. The defenseless sheep will always need guarding and protecting from the ever presence of wolves. A situation I can best describe as, and reminding me, of the old Warner Brother’s Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog cartoon from the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. If I didn’t know any better I would swear that is where Grossman based his theory on.

      It is my unprofessional observation that society in this sense is more akin to a collective strategic approach. In thinking along the lines of bees and other successful like creatures with societal roles and assignments. The bulk of society isn’t as Grossman puts it sheep, but rather more like worker bees who need to be able to productive without being uninterrupted. Thus, in short, the role of the protector is to protect the workers so they can be productive for the advancement and benefit of society. On a smaller scale for example, we see this similar dynamic working in a successful family.

      Thus, reasons why I don’t like Grossman’s choice of metaphor. The laws of the universe don’t dictate an utopia where violence doesn’t exist, where no man does harm to another. The measure of violence and harm we do to each other is controllable with societal limitations, contracts, rules and laws. For those conditions to work it take the bulk of society to follow these implementations. Humans are societal creatures which are the most productive without having everyone attend to major threats and actions of violence upon our society. It’s that in society, it isn’t a matter that there are either sheep, sheepdogs or wolves etc. we are all capable of those roles on a whole; the military proves that. Instead, it is an integral matter of society needing protectors to watch and guard society, so others can be productive for the welfare and benefit of society. This applies to the scale of any successful and progressive country, metropolitan city, city, town, community, and neighborhood.

      1. Jon, interesting points. I think, maybe, that the wolves/sheep/dogs analogy might seem more romantic and dramatic than bees, though, which is why Grossman used that for his audience. One could say the same about an ant colony, which is divided up among workers, foragers, soldiers, drones and a queen. All have the same DNA but their social roles are different. But that’s taking the analogy a bit too far afield, perhaps…

  4. I do not like the comparison , wolves, sheep, sheepdog and sheperds. Having not read Grossman’s work this is not against his ideas which might be very good but more a principal point.
    Wolves are the bad guys, why? They do not have a choice. They kill to feed themselves and their young. They are social animals, they care for each other. The bad name wolves have are a historical mistake which, if I recall correctly comes from Western Europe Medieval lore. Again wolves do not have a choice.
    Man has. Again this is not simple. You do not make a choice and live by it forever. No you make this choice again and again each and every day. Wether that makes you a good man (or woman) who knows?

    And by the by. The wolves act as they do since they do not have a choice. The dogs cooperate with their masters, why? Because they are fed and cared for. So they have a motive. If they are not cared for or fed by their masters will they turn against them?

    Another by, this is not in favor of the bad guys out there. They do have a choice.

    1. Johan,
      Your comments are well taken. As I noted, the analogy is not quite appropriate, but it’s a starting point. If one were to look at the biological and environmental history of wolves, you are correct. Real wolves in the wild have been decimated because of our human desire to expand our farming and livestock, at the expense of a natural environment of ruminants and the naturally occurring predators like wolves to keep their numbers in check. On the other hand, I believe Grossman (and myself, borrowing Grossman’s analogy) meant it as a simplified analogy, not a close parallel.

  5. I too agree it was meant as a simplified analogy. I think Wayne’s article flaws because it uses the misunderstood and weakly constructed (possible on purpose) Grossman metaphor. But Wayne’s context, and his point are valid never the less. A crucial point missed by so many martial artists subscribing or using Grossman to justify their egotistical misunderstood Budo pursuits. They miss the mark of Budo, as summed up by Wayne, “…properly conducted budo training can help us deal with confronting such extraordinary events of destruction, whether human-made or natural.” Budo training as I mention before in my story of my Sensei’s is an exemplar of the true purpose of Budo. The true role of the protector is to influence and to change people’s characters. Especially, those young men susceptible violent behavior- not to promote it like MMA, but to squelch it, to redirect it for the betterment of society.

  6. Hi guys,
    As always a lot to chew on.
    I feel that properly conducted budo training should include the individual’s responsabillity towards society and his role in society. What seems to be lacking in the way a lot of teachers of budo teach are not simplified analogies but an emphasis on the choice we as individual (budoka) have to make. Day in day out again and again. And in that way become a good human being (or not).
    Without these ingredients budo turns into a passtime while it should include a moral compass so to speak. But then learning about moral is not perceived as being cool, kicking ass is.
    Guess I am talking as my grandfather.

    1. Johan, I obviously agree with you. When people (not Wayne) take that metaphor of Grossman and use it as a mantra for their ego is defeats the purpose of Budo for sure. I fear some will read Wayne’s article focus on Grossman’s metaphor twist it to fit them, completely over looking the importance of what Wayne is saying. With all the Japanese old school senseis I knew all admonished the lack of understanding of what true Budo is about. I think the Japanese can teach the world a good lesson about violence through character building. The problem is people don’t want to listen.

  7. Those who don’t listen are part of the problem of violence. My biggest criticism of BJJ was the Gracies didn’t incorporate a true Budo philosophy into their effective art. I don’t know if Maeda didn’t teach to better their character, or they ignored it. Whatever the reason, BJJ has and now promotes more intensely violence though their own philosophy that doesn’t aline with Budo. BJJ gave way to MMA compounded violent behavior. I think it supports Grossman’s view of where violent behavior is fostered.

    I do believe in tabula rasa. I have seen it, and I have been there, I am a testimonial to the power of Budo to change lives. Sure it can’t change every life, but it can make the difference. When you have someone on the edge of violent behavior a good proper sensei can have an important impact. That individual say being a wolf can turn to be a protector. A poor sensei in terms of promoting violence can also have a great influence in making a wolf. We see that situation represented in the first Karate Kid movie, with the Cobra Kai sensei character, hence art imitates life.

    The other day, I watched some videos on YouTube called something like, Prison fights, and it disturbed me. Watching two 20 something spawning young wolves engage in a brutal cock using hack MMA technique reinforce how society creates and fosters violent behavior – here is where I plug in Grossman. And then we wonder why there is so much violence in society and the need for protectors. I couldn’t help to think that if they had learned Budo these young men would not be fighting honing their predatory interest with MMA skills. Instead, they would be bettering their character and promoting a safer society.

    I strongly vocalize my dislike of most martial arts as they are practiced incorrectly lacking that fundamental element and purpose of true Budo. Society on a whole has become lost as more and more young men are increasingly committing or attempting to commit mass murder. It is out of hand and there are no signs of this violence is decreasing. Something Grossman noticed, yet it isn’t talked about. No, what is talked about in martial arts circles when Grossman is brought up is is his metaphors only to feed their egos and play to their insecurities. The value I see in Grossman’s in his metaphors, what is worth dying for, what is worth defending, is the betterment of society. The effort to make society a less violent place and more peaceful place. Thus, allowing society to develop and progress. The pen still is mightier than the sword.

  8. I’ve never liked Grossman’s formula – because we are (were) a nation of citizen-soldiers. The vast majority of the most valorous warfighters do what must be done, and then return home to peace. I’ve seen the response of the sheepdog metaphor among young law-enforcement officers and it fosters an elitism (speaking as one of the sheep, from their perspective). Furthermore, the “warrior” metaphor has been very detrimental to both the military and even more so, to law enforcement. I quite understand the concept of fighting with the “warrior spirit” – if you’ve been shot or stabbed, only something deeply primal, rooted absolutely in survival will get you home. However, imagine your country occupied – would you rather have bands of warriors roaming the streets (autonomous, self-directed, living off the enemy’s land) or soldiers (under a change of command). And police are not warriors – they are guardians (I may actually have had some input in changing this language on a national level, as part of a project I’m involved in). Warriors occupy enemy territory – guardians protect their own. When my family is in danger, I do not want a warrior responding to a call – I want a guardian, who sees my family has his or her own.

    1. Ellis,

      Point well taken; “warriors” has always been a problematic term for me as it applies to anyone other than soldiers…Guardians, thinking about it, seem a better word after all.


  9. Wayne – actually, I’m going a step further. “Guardians,” to be sure, for police. But I do not like the term “warrior” for the military either. The consummate warrior was the Comanche – probably the most free males in any society whatsoever (not so the women . . .). They offer an incredibly romantic image, but torture was a recreation. As was slaughter of anyone inconvenient. Soldier provides the nuance of ordered force – – – with shepherds, whereas autonomous warriors do not have such a chain of command. BTW – the common vernacular these days is “warfighter,” but there is some consideration of yet another change. This is not, for once, political correctness – it is simply a realism that metaphors create realities on the ground.

    1. Point taken, Ellis. My own random musings have conflicted me, I must admit, about the terminology for “warrior.” As you note, it comes with a lot of baggage. Maori “warrior” parties were fierce, but they were so fierce they cannibalized a neighboring island’s inhabitants. And of course, Hawaiian warriors killed…and ate Captain James Cook. All in a day’s work as a “warrior.” The brutality that comes with tribal warfare is often not touched upon when we overly romanticize the past. Same with some historical atrocities committed by the samurai upon each other, such as when Oda Nobunaga boiled, scraped, and gilded the head of one of his enemies (and former brother-in-law) to use as a drinking cup.

      While you have experience on the “front line,” I concur with the observation that “metaphors create realities on the ground.” Teaching high school kids, I saw how media imagery, even of the most blatant and ridiculous extremes, form and shape youngsters when they are trying to define themselves, often to no good result. I do not doubt that it has similar effects on adults on the nether end of the law, and even upon ourselves, “normal” (?) people, unless we really watch our own inner compass.

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