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.

[P.S. this concept also applies to and for women police!]


  1. When I first heard of your innovative crowd control techniques David I immediately thought of the martial arts attitude of “Blend with your opponent”. The theme of diffusing violence through empathy rings true through all of your writings. That you can take those ideas and skills to the level of working a crowd or blending with a community is very admirable.
    I can only hope that police officers remember they are dealing with a fellow human being in a trouble when they pull out their convenient Tasers. I’m sure some of them are all too happy to now be able to aim and pull a trigger with out having to exert their doughtnut riddled bodies; or with out worrying about the consequences of their actions.
    Why should a PO spend years learning the fine subtle art of protecting one’s enemy that martial arts training requires?


  2. To me, martial arts is like going to a religion school. It doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t practice what you preach once you leave the door. Too many cops will think that once they master the phyiscal aspect of martial arts, they can kick anyone’s butt; however, they forget the mental and phisophical aspect of martial arts.


  3. I knew a high ranking prison official who was a master black belt in Taekwondo and own his own dojo; however, all that training did not stop him from hitting on females in his organization even though he was married and he tried his workers like cow dung.


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