LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSIONAL
David J. Freedland
A young man of Western descent is said to have asked a Japanese Zen master the meaning of Zen, and the possibility of teaching him the concept. The master smiled as he poured the young man some tea. As the cup filled, the master continued to pour until the cup’s contents overflowed into the saucer and onto the table. When the young man inquired as to what the master was doing, the master replied, “You, like the cup, are too filled with your own preconceived notions, prejudices, and close-mindedness to begin to understand the concept of Zen.”
In the Japanese martial arts a similar urban legend has perpetuated in the dojo regarding the elusive concept of Budo. Budo, translated the martial way or way of war, is more than the physical execution of blocks, punches, kicks, and throws. It is a way of life that involves the mastery of techniques, which result in the polishing of the virtues of courage, courtesy, integrity, humility, and self control. 1 The arts ascribing to Budo, such as karate-do, judo, aikido, and kendo all seek to achieve the perfection of character through the path or “do” which each practitioner follows.
Correspondingly, American law enforcement agencies, as well as most Western policing organizations have sought to recruit and field officers who embody those personal virtues, but have approached this end product differently through college degree requirements, in-service training courses, motivational speakers, and team-building workshops. The concept of force is compartmentalized into training modules for each perishable skill. Normally regulated at the state level, specific training hours are designated for firearms, arrest and control, baton, pepper spray, and Taser.
In 1991, a new chief of police for “America’s safest city,” Irvine, California, (for cities with populations exceeding 100,000) found that half of his police officers carried 26” straight stick batons, and half carried the side handle, or PR-24 baton. Recognizing the training challenges associated with having two different impact weapons, he assigned a patrol sergeant who had only months prior received his second degree (Ni-Dan) ranking in Japanese Shotokan karate, to research each weapon and recommend under which baton that the department should unify. That quest for unity would eventually lead to a law enforcement training system based upon Budo, whose Japanese master would ultimately have his techniques recorded on video by the first American to receive black belts from Japan.
Robert Koga was recommended as having developed an aikido-based system that incorporated self defense, arrest and control, and baton. The baton with which he trained was 29” of straight hardwood, consisting of either: African Purple Heart, hickory, South American Cocobolo, or a composite called Dyamond wood. The researcher/sergeant enrolled in a 40-hour course taught in a dojo in Santa Cruz, California. The students were all police officers, but each exhibited the traits characteristic of a Budo-based martial art such as courtesy, confidence, and self-control, in addition to their superior hands-on skills. The most remarkable component of Koga’s instruction was the fact that nearly half of the course was lecture. Officers were drilled with information on code sections and case decisions which authorize officers to employ force when having to overcome resistance. A written test followed to ensure that class participants were confident in their tools and the legal authority to use them.
Robert Koga, however, was somewhat of a challenge. Having been copied, misquoted, and frequently challenged in court, he was suspicious of new students. His classes were exhausting; he was critical of every minute detail of technique, and it took time to gain his trust and respect. His practical tests were typical Japanese examinations, requiring multiple repeats, without acknowledging as to what was performed in error. His certificates were earned, and their attainment signified the utmost competency.
The Irvine Police Department had developed a reputation for innovation with such programs as civilian traffic accident investigators, computerized patrol vehicle tracking, and performance evaluations based upon merit rather than seniority. Further research was warranted before a recommendation could be offered to consolidate under one baton that was three (3) inches longer than the current one, and the adoption of a system based upon philosophies from the Orient. Police departments are slow to change, and many American agencies still embrace a culture reminiscent of the Wild West.
In contrast, the Bushido code of the Samurai still influences Japan’s police force today. Judo and Kendo are part of law enforcement training in Japan, and many police officers continue to study the martial arts throughout their careers. In most cases, the toughest dojo in a city in Japan is a police dojo. Today, Japanese police forces are far more militaristic, and from an American perspective, far more intrusive in the lives of citizens. The koban, or police box, is a common sight on city street corners. Cops know who goes to work and when they work in their neighborhoods, and they don’t hesitate to stop and question strangers. 2
Robert “Bob” Koga epitomized a modern day samurai. He grew up in California’s East Bay, before being sent to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, at the outbreak of World War II. It was there that he began the study of judo to defend himself from the gangs that had formed within the camp. Following the war, he joined the Air Force and served in Korea where he was wounded. In 1955, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department, becoming one of the first Asian-Americans to be sworn in as an officer.
He became the department’s defensive tactics instructor, during the administration of famous police chief, William H. Parker, credited with cleaning the corruption depicted in the movie, “L.A. Confidential.” Koga’s reputation as a maverick was established when he violated the chain-of-command by speaking directly with Chief Parker over the objections of his superiors regarding defensive tactics procedures. LAPD’s command staff had recommended that officers use stretchers to remove non-violent protesters blocking intersections. Koga believed that officers should use hands-on skills with which they had been trained, and apply pain control twist locks. Chief Parker supported Koga’s recommendation, and the operation was ultimately a success.
Following his achievement of the rank of 5th degree (Go-Dan) in Judo, Koga observed a demonstration by aikido master, Koechi Tohei, and began his study of aikido, while testing its applicability on the streets of Los Angeles. Tohei Sensei had been sent to Hawaii in 1953 by aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, to establish an aikido dojo in the United States. Upon Ueshiba’s death in 1969, Tohei’s disagreement with Ueshiba’s son, Kisshomaru, over the role of Ki (internal power) in aikido training, led to his departure and establishment of a new form known as Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido – Mind and Body Unity. 3 Tohei Sensei held strong Chinese philosophical influences that had been propagated by Wan Yang Ming who held that, “To know and to act are one and the same.” 4
Tohei’s influence on Koga was significant, as evidenced by his use of “Mind and Body are One,” as an essential concept in his system’s principles. 5 Koga constantly stressed to his students that: 1. The Police Role in a Physical Arrest is Essentially Defensive 2. An Arrest is an Emotional Event as Well as a Physical Event 3. The Mind and Body are One.
In early 1992, following the sergeant’s recommendation for the implementation of the Koga System’s baton program, Chief Charles S. Brobeck directed the Irvine Police Department’s training bureau to purchase 29” batons and initiate training. Over a period of several weeks, the entire sworn complement was trained, and plans were made to schedule the next module of arrest and control tactics. Within weeks of completing the baton portion, a convicted felon name Rodney King was beaten by several officers of the LAPD following a vehicle pursuit in Los Angeles’ Foothill Division.
Law enforcement changed forever, and use-of-force issues were heretofore referred to as pre-King, and post-King. The media looked for material related to police training, brutality, and controversy. The Orange County Register ran an article entitled, “Irvine Police Look to the Orient in New Baton Training.” Police equipment manufacturers began producing numerous electronic devices, impact weapons, and retardant sprays to address future incidents similar to the King beating. Law enforcement administrators looked for quick fixes to purchase, while failing to recognize that the solution to the problem remained with the individual officer, and the organization’s inability to develop Budo within its members.
The Irvine Police Department proceeded with the arrest and control module, and quickly encountered problems during portions of the training in which instruction focused upon learning how to safely fall. Injuries were incurred ranging from sprains to a detached retina, when it was discovered how poorly conditioned some personnel had become. Board members from the police union complained that the Koga System was too difficult, and requested that management seek alternate methods for dealing with force. Training staff were directed to instruct “Koga-lite” to address injuries, and to reduce the hours required for certification. This development became a morale killer for the instructional staff. The training cadre had lived by two of Koga’s famous maxim’s, “Expect nothing – be prepared for anything,” and “No Give Up.”6
The departmental instructors, along with a handful of officers who were practitioners of traditional martial arts were set apart by their skills, as well as their professional outlook toward adversity. It had become apparent that Budo was not a concept that could be simply institutionalized within an organization. The training was physically demanding, the training hours required were deemed financially prohibitive, and police unions were averse to fitness standards which might possibly lead to the termination of a tenured employee.
Koga’s system clearly produced officers who lived and practiced the principles of Budo, but these were individuals who chose to become instructors, in contrast to those who were assigned to attend training. Just as reputable dojo’s are selective with regard to whom they retain as members, similarly with Koga, it is a certain type of officer who continues to participate in his training.
Fortunately, within ten years of his death in September 2013, Robert Koga met Sensei Dan Ivan, the first American to receive black belts in karate, judo, aikido, and kendo from Japan, and Black Belt Magazine’s director of instructional videos. Ivan Sensei documented for posterity Koga’s system in a series of videos entitled “Practical Aikido.”7 Prior to Ivan Sensei’s death he commented that he had never seen anyone better skilled at performing Taiho-jutsu (arrest and control tactics) than Robert Koga.
The public demands police officers and law enforcement professionals who exhibit what the practice of Budo produces; but only a few agencies have been truly successful in changing their cultures to accomplish it. If Budo’s byproduct is a concept to be supported, that being the fielding of officers who are confident, courteous, courageous, and skilled, then a different strategy should be developed to encourage it. The key to implementing such a change is to address it in the hiring process.
The Navy SEAL teams have been supremely successful in selecting the type of individuals who exhibit the qualities they are seeking. As Rorke Denver, former head of Basic and Advanced SEAL training stated, “I’m not saying cancel BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) or make it Diet BUD/S or BUD/S Light.” He went on to state that by the third day of Hell Week they have identified those who embodied the essential traits necessary to join their brotherhood. 8
Similarly, law enforcement organizations frequently possess specific hiring criteria that are not articulated in a job announcement. For example, despite promotional qualifications for lieutenant being listed as a bachelor’s degree, it has been a long-standing unwritten requirement that all Irvine Police command staff members of the rank of lieutenant and higher possess a master’s degree. It has also been known within the Orange County law enforcement community that one particular agency, which prides itself on winning the annual Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay, will ask applicants during their interview panels to provide them with their 10 kilometer run times.
Though unpublished, these messages travel rapidly through word of mouth and social media to interested applicants, who are willing to take additional steps to accomplish their career goals. However, the correct message must be communicated, to achieve the desired result. In Irvine, when a trend was formed that indicated that members of the SWAT team were scoring high on the sergeant promotional process, applications soared when SWAT openings became available. Many of these individuals sought SWAT assignment as resume padding in their pursuit of sergeant chevrons, but lacked the physical attributes for tactical operations. They failed to recognize that Special Weapons and Tactics Teams developed leaders, and that having SWAT posted on a list of assignments, was not simply a box to be checked as a prerequisite.
It is proposed that oral interview panels for both entry level and lateral police applicant positions be provided with a series of questions directed toward martial arts backgrounds. This departure from the traditional interview questionnaire must be supported by the chief of police, sheriff, or executive officer in charge of the law enforcement organization, in consultation with the human resources manager. The questions should begin along the lines of:
1. Does the applicant train in the martial arts?
2. If so, what discipline?
3. Can the applicant articulate the benefits provided by such training?
4. Do any of the applicants’ stated benefits include character development, discipline, courtesy, loyalty, or self control?
5. Who has provided an example of leadership in your life?
The inclusion of this additional information would provide a glimpse into the applicant’s physical as well as character development. It should be assumed that those interviewing have no familiarity with the martial arts, so a basic informational sheet should accompany the questions to identify the arts that are most likely to develop the desired personal qualities. As an example, training in boxing or mixed martial arts may produce stellar fighting skills, but unless question #4 is well developed, the candidate may simply enjoy the art for its physical attributes.
Finally, the results should be quantified, where possible, by conducting interviews of those officers completing their eighteen month probationary period. It would be of interest to examine as to how many were hired with no martial arts training, and of those who had trained, how many still participated in their training regimen. These results should also be compared with each officer’s performance review scores, and any sustained complaints of misconduct.
In closing, if all that can be accomplished is to develop a training cadre of officers who live by the code of Budo, who can at the very minimum, instill in others the five (5) principles of Shotokan karate’s founder, Gichin Funakoshi, the organization and the public will benefit tremendously. Those principles by which he lived were:
1. You must be deadly serious in your training.
2. Train with both heart and soul without worrying about theory.
a. Refer to #3 of General Colin Powell’s 18 Principles of Leadership: Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world. 9
3. Avoid self-conceit and dogmatism.
4. Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others.
5. Abide by the rules of ethics in your daily life, whether in public or private. 10
Such rugged individualists who exhibit the Spartan / Budo ethos would not only present a more professional image, but better serve the public for whom they have sworn to protect.
- Funakoshi, Gichin, Karate-do Kyohan, Harper and Row Publishers, Inc. 1973, p. 14
- Lowry, Dave, “How the Bushido Code of the Samurai Influences Japan’s Police Force,” www.blackbeltmag.com, March 23, 2011
- Koga, Robert, Controlling Force, Koga Institute, 1995, p. 46 & author interviews of Mr. Koga from 1992 – 2006
- Nitobe, Inazo, Bushido, The Soul of Japan, Kodansha International Publishers, 1900, p. 43
- Op. cit. Koga, p. 35 – 51
- Koga, Robert, A Manual of Law Enforcement Self Defense, Vol. 1, Koga Institute, 1998, p. 7
- Koga, Robert, “Practical Aikido,” Vol. 1, 2004, amazon.com
- Denver, Rorke, Damn Few, Harper Collins Special Markets, 2013, p. 257 – 258
- Powell, Colin, “18 Leadership Principles from Colin Powell,” Affiliate Marketing Blog by Geno Prussakov, June 2009, www.amnavigator.com/blog
- Funakoshi, Gichin, Karate-do, My Way of Life, Kodansha International Publishers, 1975, p. 105 - 109