GUEST AUTHOR: Jeffrey Riggs is a Viet Nam War Veteran with over 30 years in Law Enforcement. He is Kaicho of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei of America, teaching for over 25 years. His extended biography and training information can be found on his homepage: http://iwatanakarate.tripod.com.
When I was a kid the public perception of a police officer was, positive. He was an honorable and trustworthy protector of the public, who could be trusted with your most valuable possessions, even your life. This perception was reinforced by movies and televisions shows such as “Dragnet” and later “Adam 12”. As I grew older, my perception, and that of the public, became more realistic with police involvement in civil rights violations and excessive force becoming common knowledge. Of course these issues were addressed and continue to be. Through all that, Law Enforcement continued to retain the public trust, though we now know that officers do make mistakes and as in all professions, there are some bad ones. But the bad ones don’t last long due to established safeguards.
For over 30 years I was one of those police officers (a good one). After Viet Nam, I went to the Police Academy and my destiny was set. I also became a martial artist, teaching Okinawa Kenpo Karate for nearly as long. Because of my history and profession, I chose the more practical approach to Karate, focusing on combat and self-defense rather than the sport aspect. It proved to be a wise choice and served me well over the years. Retired now, my second career is full time teaching an art that saved my butt several times.
There is one issue that doesn’t fall into “normal” self defense or martial training. That is; what do you do when your “Threat” is a police officer or someone impersonating one?
It’s a new day and wackadoos abound, gone are the days when a regular person can venture forth in public without at least some concern for their safety and well being. Everyone needs to take certain precautions and increase their awareness to ensure their safety and the safety of their possessions. Even trust in our police officers has eroded, unfortunately for some valid reasons. Though perhaps not as valid as some might think.
I have been asked, “How can I be sure the police officer pulling me over is real”? Due to the occasional rapist impersonating a police officer to isolate his victims, this is a very valid question. There is also the question, “How do I know the police officer who stopped me won’t rape and kill me”? Yes, that has happened.
I’ll address the impersonation of an officer first. Uniformed officers in marked police cars perform the vast majority of traffic stops. I have never heard of a rapist or someone intent on committing some type of random assault go to the trouble of reproducing the “police car” and “uniform”. So, if you learn what police cars and uniforms look like in your area, you’re OK. If someone in a Security Vehicle or is wearing something that doesn’t look like a uniform, tries to pull you over call the police and ask for verification. Red, or Red/Blue, means Police, don’t stop for Orange or Yellow, and call 911 if someone with these lights try to pull you over.
Police do use unmarked vehicles and there are some marked cars that don’t have overhead lights. If you are familiar with police cars these cars should be easy to spot. If not, look for permanently mounted lights on the bumper or grill. Is the officer wearing a uniform that you recognize? Is he using the radio to call in his location, your tag number and description and reason for the stop? Fake police officers don’t have anyone to call in to and would have to “act the part”. Be cautious of a single “Bubble Light” on the dash. They are used by police but rare for traffic enforcement, usually reserved for getting through traffic and not stopping traffic. Police stop traffic offenders; did you commit a traffic offense? If so act accordingly. If you are pulled over by an officer, marked police car or not, if you see the word “Security” or any phrase that doesn’t contain the words “Police”, “Deputy”, “Sheriff”, “Law Enforcement”, drive immediately to a well lighted and public area calling 911. Those words are exclusive to legitimate police officers. Other words, meant to deceive include “Agent”, “Bail Enforcement”, “Officer”, “Investigator” and “Detective”. These are not totally inclusive, just examples. Security Guards, Private Investigators, and Bail Bondsmen use these legally, but that also makes them available to one whom would impersonate a Police Officer.
If you suspect that the officer pulling you over isn’t legitimate let him know you see him and slow down a bit so that he knows you intend to comply with his stopping you. Hand gestures and eye contact work well for this. Legitimate police officers, especially those in unmarked cars understand this. Drive to the nearest populated and lighted area. Call the police and ask if this officer is legitimate, request another officer if they don’t know. You may have a different agency on the phone that the one who’s officer is pulling you over. When the officer approaches tell him you have the dispatcher on the phone to verify his identity. A real police officer will understand, a fake will run. On the outside chance you are accosted, drive off. Tell the dispatcher where you are and keep them on the line.
Things Not To Do
Here are some things not to do. Don’t have a bad attitude. It never makes the situation better and anger is not fear. If you suspect the officer is not legitimate, you should be afraid, not angry. Anger tells me, and it should tell you, that you don’t really suspect the officer to be fake. Don’t drive to any other location at the direction of the officer, except to clear traffic or get further off of the road. Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials, identification, or another officer to be present if you are still suspicious. Don’t be an unreasonable idiot, if the uniform is legitimate, the car properly marked, and he has all the appropriate equipment such as gun, radio (working), citation book, pepper spray, and black shoes. It would be unreasonable to not comply with this person. Do not let your opinion as to the validity of the reason for the traffic stop influence your “suspicion” as to the validity of the officer’s identity. You may have committed an infraction that you were not aware of or he may have stopped you for some other legal reason of which you have no knowledge. In most cases a simple question will result in a proper explanation.
I have arrested and successfully prosecuted a police impersonation/rape case. It was a terrible thing and had several things in common with many such cases. Solitary woman driver, isolated location, alcohol (the victim had been drinking), bubble light on the dash of a civilian car, uniform shirt with a badge. Healthy skepticism would have prevented this case, but the first thing alcohol does to you is impair judgement, before anything else. After this victim was pulled over she did become suspicious, but she didn’t know what to look for and how to react.
In all my years I only know of two cases that involve real Police Officers committing crimes such as Rape/Murder while on duty to random victims during traffic stops. So the odds are very good that this kind of thing won’t happen to you. But the horrendous nature of such a crime, who the criminal is, the vulnerability of the victim, and the law requiring compliance with a supposed trusted public servant, makes this an issue to be addressed.
On December 27th 1986, California Highway Patrol Trooper Craig Peyer stopped a woman on an isolated off ramp in San Diego and killed her. On March 4th 1990, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Timothy Harris stopped a woman on I-95 in an isolated area of Indian River County then raped and killed her.
The odds of even knowing one of these guys is so remote it warrants no concern. So being a victim of an officer like this is nearly impossible. But only nearly, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen again. Life doesn’t work like that. Years ago I worked with Harris when he was a rookie, and no, there wasn’t a clue to what he would ultimately do.
There are some common factors in both of these cases. A lone female driver, isolated location, both victims were relocated to more secluded locations nearby. Neither trooper called in the traffic stop. Both troopers appeared to have some type of issues involving “power”. Both victims were traveling greater distances and not near their home or destination. Both crimes occurred at night. The fact that both cases involve troopers of large state agencies whose focus is traffic only and that both cases were on Interstate Highways suggests a dynamic that is beyond my understanding. Investigation into both of these cases revealed that both of these officers engaged in obviously questionable behavior in traffic stops and other incidents leading up to their ultimate crimes. If at any time an officer acts inappropriately or overly personal, you should report this to a Police Supervisor as soon as possible.
Preventing this type of crime is best effective by the Law Enforcement Agency and the certification process of police officers. But there are things you can do. Avoid being a lone female driver or driving at night if you can when traveling. If stopped in an isolated area, ask the officer to call for another officer to be present, especially at night. If stopped, pull well off of the roadway making a request to move to a “safer location” unreasonable. Turn off your radio/music but not your car, leave it running. Check to see if the officer is using the radio to call in his traffic stop, if not ask for another officer to be present. If the officer asks you to exit your vehicle, ask him to have another officer present. If you are uncomfortable for any reason, say so and ask for another officer to be present. If the officer refuses, call 911 and ask yourself. Be reasonable, the odds that the officer will assault you are extremely remote. But if he does, drop it in drive and leave, immediately and call 911. But you have to remember; unreasonably fleeing an officer will put you in jail. Unsubstantiated allegations will probably get you little sympathy from other officers, but an immediate call to 911 will verify, something happened and you were not fleeing police, just that officer.
Now there is good news. The process to become a police officer takes a long time. They don’t take just anyone. There is a lengthy waiting list. A candidate has to pass a background check and a psychological examination to get into the Police Academy. The Police Academy is designed to weed out poor candidates as well as teach. There is another waiting list for employment at a police agency. There is another background check, more detailed, and another psychological examination, also more detailed. There is written, verbal, and physical testing, as well as oral review boards, followed by interviews by administrative heads. All of this is designed to weed out the less than acceptable. If a candidate makes it this far he may be offered a job. This job is “probationary”, one year in some cases, two in others. The new police officer now becomes the property of a Field Training Officer. The training officer has two jobs. One is to train and familiarize the new officer to policies and procedures, and to teach him how to be a police officer. The other is to weed out the less than acceptable. The likes of Craig Payer and Tim Harris are looked for throughout the entire process and I have faith that the system works.
After the “Field Training Process” and “Probation”, officers are still held to the highest standards. Any complaint of inappropriate behavior is treated seriously, thoroughly investigated and appropriately dealt with. Many times it is a misunderstanding, or a mistake that can be corrected. Sometimes it’s not and the officer looks for a job more conducive to his character, not to forget that criminal acts result in appropriate prosecution. Just remember that revenge for a citation is not a good motive for an officer complaint. Providing false information on such a complaint is not only illegal and can result in you being prosecuted, you can also be sued for liable by the officer.
Being familiar with the contents of this article, paying attention while using common sense and logic while being stopped by that officer will result in a safe encounter, though maybe not an enjoyable one. Nobody likes that citation.
Remember 5 questions in 5 days? That seemed to go over well so I figured I would take some more questions.
This one is a doozy: “How does one learn to become a good teacher? Can lower ranking students teach?”
When considering this question I quickly realized that I couldn’t create a prescription for what makes a good teacher. There are far too many varied approaches that can work given the right personality and skillset. Nevertheless, I think I distilled some ideas that can help in recognizing the path of a “sensei” in the classical sense (that is to say, what a sensei was meant to be and what they can be in the modern world). Please enjoy:
I know this video is pretty extensive, so here is a breakdown of some of the main bullet points I touched upon for your notes and reference:
What a Good Teacher Isn’t
- A coach is responsible for the physical performance and readiness of his athletes.
- Some modern instructors do fit that description, especially in the realm of MMA athletes and tournament competitors (like tkd olympics).
- The classical sensei’s subject matter is far more pressing. They are concerned with their students taking other human life in their hands. They have to impart the mental and character skillset to recognize the repercussions of damaging a life, not just on the targeted person, but on their family, on the student, on the student’s family, and in a broader sense, deciding what kind of societal impact the decision process will have (will this individual go on to hurt others?).
- There is also inherent right and wrong matters that a sensei must address. Whenever we see a martial artist doing something disgraceful, we suggest that his/her sensei should have helped him/her in controlling their abilities. In old times, every action of a student reflected upon the sensei significantly, so there was a deeper connection than mere coaching.
A Life Guru
- Being a sensei does not grant someone automatic license to give advice on all life matters.
- Most sensei are not professional trained psychologists, therapists, financial experts, etc. Therefore they are not qualified to give relationship advice, financial advice, etc etc.
- In classical times, the sensei or sifu was a much more integrated part of village life. Their training often made them not just the most deadly individual, but also the best trained in medicine, herbs, physiology, and more general education like literacy, government policy, etc etc. These sensei were highly integrated into a town’s ecosystem. Sometimes farmers would ask advice for when to plant crops and parents would seek out help for naming their children (so as to avoid bad luck).
- That is no longer the case for modern sensei. In our connected society we have real professionals that do all these other things, and modern sensei are not trained to be village counselors.
A Good Teacher…
- finds the proper balance between coach and guru.
- will focus on passing on the curriculum as it was handed down to them, preserving it as best as possible for the students to explore. They’ll resist the ego stroke of flavoring everything with their own flair.
- will understand how to minimize the politics of rank and ego.
- will find the balance between physical technique, mental tuning, and character development. Too much of one will begin to sacrifice the others.
- will understand when to guide students strictly and when to allow them space to explore on their own.
- will do their best to help their students surpass them, giving them tools when they are ready and without ego-based restrictions.
- will recognize the difference between a student who is ready for higher learning, and one who has yet to develop the right character.
To learn how to become a good teacher, you need to pinpoint those unique aspects of instructors you’ve met and absorb them. You need to find ways to embody those things that a teacher should be and avoid those things a teacher shouldn’t be. That’s why lower rank students can help teach. They can assist higher ranks or even take classes once in awhile. But it takes many years of analyzing their instructor and understanding what makes him/her so special in order to integrate that into themselves, and be able to use it to benefit students.
Imagine the most boring class you had in high school or college. The teacher’s droning probably made you itchy to escape the intellectual prison they called a classroom.
Now imagine the best class you had in high school or college. The impact of that instructor has probably lasted well beyond your school days.
Teaching a martial art is a rare gift and responsibility, one that has an amazing amount of freedom. In the public education system there are layers of governing boards and protocols to funnel what can be taught and how it can be transmitted. In the martial arts world, the possibilities are much more varied.
Sure, most martial art organizations have criteria for what it takes to advance in ranking…but are there guidelines for how that knowledge should be transmitted? Unlikely.
It’s possible of course to try and perfectly mimic your instructor’s style, but that’s rarely attainable (or even desirable). Personal experience, talent level, intellectual capacity, and philosophical beliefs will flavor everything you do in a unique way.
Therefore it’s wise to examine your own teaching methods and decide for yourself how you might best help your students. Consider the following three strategies for imparting a martial art:
Being a full-on dictator is bad…but sometimes dictating is good! Dictating refers to the act of instructing students in a very specific and structured manner. The teacher tells the student where to step, where to block, how to balance, what degree angle to turn, etc etc. Dictating is a powerful tool, especially in the early phases of a young martial artist’s career as he/she tries desperately to adjust to the rigors of training.
The weakness of dictation is a lack of creativity. Students are so busy trying to fit into the structure of class while avoiding technical mistakes that they rarely engage in critical thinking. Toying with technique, trial and error, and big-picture contemplation is not on the to-do checklist.
Of course, giving specific advice has been around since one caveman taught another how to sharpen a stick; there’s no question regarding the value of detail transmission. However, modern teaching has taken dictation to a high extreme, resulting in formalized classes filled with one-way information and strict regimentation. A lot of that can be attributed to military influence.
When military men first arrived in eastern countries and learned martial arts, they often integrated the material they learned with the military methods they had been molded in. They did so for purely practical reasons. The stakes were/are very high in military and law enforcement work. Following orders with precision saves lives while creating higher probability of success for an entire unit.
The west wasn’t alone in their military intentions; eastern countries like Japan and even Okinawa began teaching martial arts in larger group settings for the purpose of crafting young men into resilient, obedient soldiers. Strong dictation was a natural evolution of teaching style.
WAIT AND SEE
Perhaps the diametric opposite of dictating is the ‘wait and see’ approach. W&S involves demonstrating technique, kata, etc while offering no breakdown or explanation. The instructor performs and the students must watch and gather what they can. Discussion is not a big part of W&S.
W&S has been the method of choice for centuries in many of the eastern koryu arts. Due to the influence of Confucianism, eastern philosophy enforces the idea of quiet obedience and attendance when being instructed. W&S does not require the instructor to hold a student’s hand through every detail.
The strength of W&S lies in it’s focus and range of possibilities. When learning in W&S style there is no spoon feeding of information, and going on mental ‘cruise control’ is a very quick way to fall behind and eventually wash out. Furthermore, interpretation of what a student sees an instructor do can be highly varied. Since there is no specific guidance, the student is left to his/her own experience and critical thinking in order to determine how to achieve the same skill level as the instructor. W&S also has the benefit of being able to transcend language barrier.
The weakness of W&S lies in it’s roadblocks and time frame. If a student gets stuck and lacks understanding, they can find themselves in ‘learning quicksand’. Even if they do eventually struggle their way through a problem, it may have taken years longer than was needed. A few pieces of wisdom from an experienced instructor could have reframed perspective and fixed a wayward path, but with W&S there can be a lack of active course correction.
Another weakness of W&S is organizational. When an instructor allows students to interpret the art for themselves, each student will naturally come to different conclusions. When the senior instructor is not present, or has passed away, the result is chaotic and often results in massive splintering among students.
Nudging is perhaps a middle ground of the previous two methods and involves monitoring a student’s progress noninvasively, interjecting from time to time in order to enhance growth and understanding.
A nudge is not as concrete as dictation; if the instructor fixes the angle of a student’s stance, that is a dictated correction. If on the other hand he/she asks the student why the angle of a stance might be better increased or decreased, that is a nudge toward understanding.
Nudging is a powerful tool, especially when instructing higher level students. Advanced martial artists can become stagnant and bored if they only receive dictated training year after year. That is why challenging them to draw their own conclusions and guiding them to their own level of higher understanding is so essential.
The problem with nudging is twofold: difficulty and structure. Students can become impatient and annoyed with a teacher who nudges all the time because they feel a simple straight answer would be a quicker solution to their needs. Furthermore, teaching in a nudge style can be extremely tricky. It’s very easy to fall into a ‘false philosopher’ mode where the instructor simply projects student’s questions back onto them without providing any real insight. For example:
“Sensei, what does this technique mean? I can’t put it to any good use.”
“My student, what do you think it means? Once you know that, you’ll have your answer.”
This exchange sounds wise and zen-like, but it doesn’t provide any nudging.
The other difficulty is in structure. Instructors must navigate the complicated tapestry of tradition and ego. In some ways, it is an instructor’s duty to pass along a style exactly as it was handed to him/her (best done through dictation). Meanwhile, the more students look exactly like the instructor, the better pleased the instructor will be due to subtle ego (since I know what I am doing, the students should look like me!). Thus, nudging requires a careful relaxing of those rules in order to let students find their own path to higher effectiveness.
How does an instructor maintain the integrity of a tradition while helping students explore their own path? That’s the difficulty in nudging.
A Proper Mixture
I don’t believe any one of the methods above is superior to the others. In fact, I think most good instructors find a mixture of all three with plenty of other tactics mixed in. A skilled instructor will observe what each individual needs on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis. In fact, teaching strategy can change in mid-class (or even mid-sentence).
The key, I think, is to recognize the tools available as a teacher and use them to their highest effect. Knowing when to take the reigns and when to loosen them is critical in helping students achieve that rare but essential goal of self actualization. Only then can a martial art start to grow into ikigai.