Samurai Cops?

A few weeks ago, I was explaining my book to a friend of mine with whom  I practice the Japanese sword. He listened for awhile and then said, “David, what you are describing are cops who are samurais — warriors who ascribe to the Bushido code.” And you know what, he was right.

My background in policing also spans the time I have practiced one or more of the Asian marital arts — first Judo, then Taekwondo, Kendo, Aikido, and the Japanese sword (Katori-ryu). This has been an important part of my life, even as a member of the clergy.

This came to light again last week when Charles Sipe was interviewing me for his webpage on criminal justice educations for police. This was his question:

“How did your black belt in Taekwondo help you in your law enforcement career?

” …What I found when I joined the police was that these arts helped me keep calm in the face of challenge and danger on the street and, when off-duty, balanced my life and kept me fit. These arts gave me confidence that I didn’t have to rely on a firearm to get the job done. I spent a good part of my career teaching defensive tactics to police based on these arts. I am as surprised today as I was a half-century ago that police do not consider these arts to be essential skills and as important for them as combat shooting skills. I wondered then, and I still wonder today, why a police officer would go out onto the street without being expert or at least highly-qualified in these skills. I guess what I am really talking about in my book is the kind of man and woman personified in the Japanese concept of “bushido:” loyal duty, justice, compassion, complete sincerity, honor, polite courtesy, and heroic courage.”

I started thinking about this and how the concept of bushido — samurai warrior — does have a lot to do with policing. The traits of  Bushido I mentioned above really permeated my thinking about my work as a police officer and how I must stand up for others, protect their rights, and be sincere, honorable and compassionate.

These are some of the things I am reflecting on as I look back in my police career. In the 60s, when I was in Minneapolis, I was the first officer to carry a long baton. Other officers carried short “billy clubs” and at first didn’t understand why I chose to carry a longer baton.

My thinking behind this (and later convincing my chief that we needed to outfit and train every officer in the long baton techniques) was that if I came up against a person threatening me with a knife or other edged weapon, I would not have to shoot him. I carried an alternative, my baton.  With it, I could quickly disarm him without taking his life. My assailant may have a sore arm, but he would be alive and I would not have to suffer the rest of my life questioning whether or not I should have killed him.

I guess my martial arts friend was right. I am advocating for “Samurai cops” who can act on the kind of values I outline in my book and when I took over leadership of the Madison PD: