The Dojo and the Crime Scene

Amid all the shouts of f*ck the police there are millions of people who call the police, every day. For help. Most of them are calling because they are afraid or have been hurt, or their stuff has been stolen. They are calling for help.

Often, they call for protection from drug dealers and their armies of addicts: people who change roles, from being friends, family and neighbors, into thieves, killers, and abusers. For them drugs promised pleasure, purpose and power but delivered servitude, degradation and misery.  While the people who cared for them looked on, unable to help them.

Sometimes the police are too late to prevent harm. They can still help, by investigating crimes – to find out what happened, who did it, and if something can be done to make things right.

A crime scene and a dojo are different worlds. But they share some secrets, which we can use.

A little more than a hundred years ago French scientist Edmond Locard observed “Every contact leaves a trace.”

Locard invented the modern sciences of forensics and crime scene investigation. His chief insight was that every criminal leaves evidence at the crime scene, and takes evidence from the scene away with him. He may bring in mud from the street and leave footprints on the tiles. He may leave a hair, a thread from his clothes, a fingerprint on a window, a pry mark on a door frame – and take away fibers from the carpet, fur from the dog, a watch, a wallet, or fluids from the body of his victim.

Why did no one notice this before? A hundred years had passed since Napoleon destroyed Europe. The revolution was a distant memory. The will to power had been displaced by faith in fact, reason, and order. France, Locard’s homeland, would be invaded and destroyed by war just a few years later. But for the moment: fact, reason and order seemed a winning bet.

“Every contact leaves a trace,” Locard observed.

Which applies not just to crime scenes, but to everything. Of course you have to investigate carefully to find the evidence.

In a dojo the exchange is continual. It can be subtle or blunt, concealed or evident. It can come as a sudden shock, or a gradual accumulation of effects. Either way it leaves an impression.

There are people we meet in the course of our lives we will never forget, even if we can’t recall their face, or never knew their name. Life moves on.  But everyone we meet leaves a trace on us. As we do on them.

The closer the connection, the more frequent the contact, the more transfer occurs.

Mostly it is not physical. How do we influence people in the dojo? How do our lives, values, strengths and shortcomings transfer to the people around us? It’s in the way we move, speak and listen. It’s in the power of our atemi, our ki, our manner, our purpose.

In the dojo, people are watching. People may imitate your example. They may be learning from your errors. Be sure: they notice you. The way you act, the way you speak, to them and others. Maybe they notice something in the respect you show to people, regardless or rank. Your dignity in victory or defeat. Poise under pressure. Humility when you teach or learn. A word of encouragement at a tough time. An honest question. Releasing tension with confident action. Presenting a direct challenge when that’s the right thing to do. Courage in the face of threat. Courtesy in the face of foolishness. They may not be familiar with this. It may open a new world.

Your expression, the way you bounce back, the way you keep going, the way you walk into the dojo after a hard day’s work, the way you walk out into the cool night air.

Those all make impressions on people. Some will not notice that your behavior has made an impression on them. They may not remember it, or you, at all. But they learned something. People pick up on different things. Different things matter to them. Some will copy a commitment to hard work, some are looking for short cuts. Some will copy respect and some will imitate arrogance. But everyone is impressionable, and everyone makes an impression.

That is proven by science, and it is lived in spirit. Just like martial arts. At the scene and in the lab, we can solve crimes by understanding the principle of transfer. In the dojo we can strengthen people, build positive lives and reduce vulnerability by recognizing the principle of transfer.

So, while we are training, we ought to be aware of what we take out of the dojo, what we bring in, and what we leave behind.

Without good self-defense skills, without a culture that supports the personal practice of self-defense and the legal right of self-defense, people will not feel safe, and the government cannot be just. The police cannot take care of everyone, everywhere, all the time. Personal freedom depends on both personal self-defense and community self-defense.

In the dojo and out: We influence everyone we come in contact with, everywhere we go. We can make a greater contribution to the people who need us than we may realize. Maybe we already have.

We may imagine that the world will see only what we choose to make visible. We may wish that only our achievements will be noticed. We may aspire to leave no trace. But the reality is, for good or ill, we leave an impression. Let’s make it count.


Post and photo Copyright © 2020 by Jeffrey M. Brooks, author of  “The Good Fight – the Virtues and Value of the Martial Arts” available on Amazon.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: