Don't Miss This One
For several years now I've been toying with the idea of writing a book about what violence looks like from the mindset of a street hoodlum. It's something that has been sorely lacking, in my opinion, in the world of mainstream martial arts and self-defense books. I wanted to show just what all the self-defense, white lotus masters who tout things like "Rape is about power" or "101 knife disarms against a mugger" or "How to survive a streetfight" are really saying: Bullshit in a can marked "Beans". I figured I would have to write it using a nom de plume, since most of my teenage skullduggery is far too horrific to cop to publicly and I want to keep my friends and marriage. Also, I'm not overly confident that the statute of limitations will save my ass in some cases.
Rory Miller has pretty much yanked the rug out from under me, from a mindset, upbringing and occupation as close to an actual psychopathic criminal as you can get on this side of the law.
It's difficult to write a blanket review of this book, it's got such a diverse range of subjects and Miller really covers his bases when he presents his argument. A friend of mine loaned me this book over a year ago, and I almost feel ashamed that I'm never giving it back. I have read and reread it cover to cover several times, and there are many points Rory makes that have altered my approach to teaching, training, and defining what it is I'm actually promoting in my school.
There are many places I disagree with Rory, but none where I can't at least understand his point of view. His experiences led him to his truth, mine led me to another. And even in disagreement, I have to admit: I'm not in a line of work that exposes me to this level of violence every day, like he is. If I were, my opinion would probably be closer to his.
Rory Miller is a veteran corrections officer, and spent the better part of his career facing the dregs of humanity on a daily basis. Some were personalities that I was all too familiar with, and many of his stories evoked memories of my former self. A few were pretty blatant, and made me shudder and think “There, but for the grace of Cthulhu…” There is a reason I abandoned this lifestyle when I was still young enough to make something better of my life, and almost every chapter of Miller's book reminds me what could have been if I had made a left turn at age 20 instead of a right.
“Meditations on Violence” is on heavy reading rotation at my house, and has been for the past several months. I return to it constantly for reference, and it’s got the same quality I hope my books on martial arts will someday have: You can open it at any page, and still get something new each time you read it. Rory Miller has done the work here, and presented it in a streamlined format. He skillfully gradients his martial arts education with his law enforcement experiences in a way that doesn’t shortchange one for the other, and gives a good litmus test for the conventional Martial Arts instructor.
Much of the writing style is in-your-face, even combative at times, and like all authors who are martial artists with jobs in high-risk facilities, Miller can get a bit preachy now and again. But it's never without reason or intelligence, and he never plays the "I'm better than you because I been down this road and you ain't" card. In fact, given his training and experience, Rory Miller is a bit more self-effacing and humble than I would have expected from the gun-toting, law enforcement, snap-your-neck-in-three-different-languages crowd. Rory's life experiences earn him the right to preach, but even when he gets on a pulpit about something, it's always a worthwhile sermon. He writes with authority on a subject that is flooded with armchair warriors, half-educated streetfighters and kung fu wannabes. I'm sorry to say it, but the number of charlatans in the martial arts/self defense field FAR outweigh the number of genuine instructors. Miller is far and away in the latter category, and this book reflects that. Whatever your occupation, gender, martial system or religion, I can say this with full confidence: This book will change your views on violence, Martial Arts, teaching, and probably half a dozen other things as well.
The following chapters are the ones that stand out the most to me, personally. Given the time, I could easily do a synopsis of the entire book this way.
Chapter Five, “Training”, is a critical look at the various methodology behind systematic martial art drills and philosophies, and Rory makes his point without getting too wordy or losing his reader in nonsensical esoterics. His observations here are spot-on, and he gets to the heart of things without pointing fingers or chest beating of any kind. As a martial arts teacher, I am constantly searching for material to refine my teaching abilities and this chapter alone was worth the price of admission. I have heard few lectures on training methods as insightful as what Rory puts forth in this chapter, and this part of the book should be required reading for anyone who ties on a black belt and stands in front of students.
You have to be ready to hear it, though. As I said, Miller doesn’t pull punches with his writing style and the average Sensei will likely take umbrage to most of his criticisms out of hand. This is a mistake, because Rory is bringing the weak points of many systems to the surface, not to elevate himself or his own style above them, but to address the key stress points so many teachers ignore through ignorance or traditionalist/ritualistic indoctrination.
Chapter Six “Making Physical Defense Work”
I have to give Rory credit here, he has made a tremendous stab at bringing the critical elements needed to survive an attack under one roof, and explained them in a comprehensive way. In fact, I would say this chapter will be the one that speaks to the widest range of readers.
There is a particular section that I want to write about here: The “go” button. It’s arguably the most critical element in real self defense, and it’s so seldom addressed that I question the validity of a martial arts instructor who doesn’t preach it. Rory gives it good service here, and I wish this was a case where he got more wordy with it. There’s no need, he makes the point, but in my opinion…It just can’t be stressed enough. However, he tells it like it is: YOU DECIDE NOW, AND TRAIN FOR IT. The last page of this chapter has a short essay on “Permission”. Buy this book, if for no other reason, to read it. Take my word for that.
Because I am writing a book similar to this one, I can see several places where Rory had to tone it down some in this chapter. I’m willing to bet he chafed a bit under the editorial demands that were made on him, there were a couple of places in particular that I thought “Why didn’t he just say “-------“ instead?”
And then it hit me: He’s not speaking to Navy Seals or the Hells Angels. He’s talking to YOU. He’s talking to someone who isn’t exposed to Beirut-level violence every day, and knows he has to frame his instructions in a way that’s accessible for a wide audience. I’m glad he took this route, actually, but in light of his language and tone in other chapters, the observant reader will see a more subdued Rory Miller here. As I said, I see it only because I’m a writer as well, and I can just hear what his editor probably said to get him to write in this fashion. However, the entire book is intelligently assembled, Rory never loses us in technical language or spiritualistic babble and he always makes room for the novice.
Let me insert a caveat here; This book is not for everybody. Gritty and unrelenting, Rory has absolutely no sympathy for his readers' psychological health, and many of the anecdotes contain scenes of horror that linger in your mind longer than you might prefer. I have certain parts earmarked to avoid because I usually need several stiff drinks afterward. (Aside note to Rory, if he's reading this: Thanks alot for the opening of page 90, asshole, I just can't wait to have THAT rolling around in my head for the rest of my life.)
Having said that, I can recommend Miller's book without hesitation.
Rory’s tales are captivating, but harsh. If you don’t normally read things with an over-abundant amount of physical gore or psychological horror, then parts of this book will leave you stunned after reading them. Especially considering that he’s not making this stuff up; He’s remembering. That really brings it home…There are people like the ones he writes about on the streets in your town at this very moment. You are almost certainly not prepared to deal with them to the extent that they are for you. Rory doesn’t let the reader off the hook on this point, and even the most experienced “Karate Sensei” will find it tough to swallow. But they would be doing themselves and their students an injustice to face it, because there are things in this book that every instructor needs, regardless of the art they teach.
Rory also runs an interesting blog – Chirion – Which you can find in my links bar on the right under “Warriors of the Mind”. I have always enjoyed his articles, and he is a captivating writer. There are some exceptional articles on teaching, martial arts and various observations about life in general balanced with Miller’s version of folksy wisdom, if Rabid Ninja Alpha Wolves could write.
Meditations on Violence was really the right title for this book, it's abundantly clear on every page that Miller has put time, effort and thought behind his words. If you want to know why this is so important, and the rarity of such a book covering this subject so well, go read a few of the other streetwise, self-defense style publications on the market today. Rory never comes across as a self defense blowhard who can’t see past his own ego, his book sets a standard that the typical "martial arts for the street" category seldom attains. Meditations on Violence demands to be READ, not just scanned. It’s an honest, unrefined dose of the real world coupled with insightful training guides and advice. I could go on for pages touting the depth of knowledge in this book. Even the preface is an attention-grabber.
If you are a martial arts teacher, law enforcement officer, or just a concerned civilian interested in physical violence and the steps necessary to avoid it, this book is a crucial must-have.
Which is precisely why I stole it.