Self-Protection for Children – Article 1

I have two sons and, like any decent parent, spend a fair amount of time worrying about the world they’re growing up in.  When I was a kid, things seemed safer.  It was rare that we heard of someone grabbing a kid.  Getting flashed was about the worst thing to happen and I didn’t hear about any of that until I was almost a teen. Things are different now, whether the actual number of incidents has risen, or because the media has constant access to us and in their search for content, they report on things like this a lot more.

Regardless, I am determined that my children will not go out into the real world without the tools they need to survive potentially bad situations.  But training them for such things is a science unto itself.  For me, the martial arts have been a lifelong pursuit of constant study and training.  But I’m also a fully grown adult.  I know what my body is capable of doing; and I know full well what my own responses will be in any number of very bad situations due to a rather colorful canvas of past experiences.

But kids are a different story.  I train my oldest for about twenty-thirty minutes each weekday morning before he gets on the school bus.  We run through a variety of physical techniques that are designed to give him a foundation in the martial art I study.  He is now familiar with the basics of proper footwork, distancing, and timing and angling (even if he doesn’t recognize them as such.)  He knows how to throw a solid jab and a decent simple kick.  He knows several hand release techniques in case someone grabs him.  And he knows how to use a staff about as long as his body and improvise that weapon in the form of an umbrella.  Again, he doesn’t necessarily “recognize” that he knows this, but this is all in his neurology right now.

Here’s the problem: he’s a child.  And these physical techniques won’t mean a whole lot unless he’s mixing it up with someone his own size and age.  It’s never too early to build a foundation, of course, and the time will certainly come when his techniques work on adults.  But it’s not here yet.  And relying on only the physical to help protect him would be doing him a grave disservice.

At his age, the single best thing I can do for him is to teach him how to be aware.  His awareness is his equalizer given his stature.  If he is able to see or sense danger coming before it gets to him, he can avoid it.  And by developing his wareness, he is helping himself in ways he can’t yet fathom.

Examples abound of supposed adults who wander through life with their heads in the clouds, oblivious to all but their own selfish inclinations, uncaring of the effects of words they utter without regard or actions they take or don’t, and disdainful of those whose perspectives they lack the ability or inclination to grasp.  We all know these people – whether they’re co-workers, friends, or – regretably – family.

What I hope to accomplish with my sons is to teach them that awareness is their best defense – not only against the external dangers that exist in the real world, but also against the internal danger of becoming a lazy, rude, complacent idiot.

I instituted a new drill today with my oldest son.  Each morning his task is to locate an index card placed somewhere around the house.  On each side of the index card is written a code word.  Every day, one side of the index card will be faced up with that day’s code word on it.  My son is to locate the card, read the day’s code word, and then at some point later, when I ask him, repeat the code word back to me.  Each day the location changes and the code word may or may not change as well.

The drill works on several levels: he must first locate it by paying attention and actively searching it out.  He must then read and remember the code word for the day, knowing that he will be asked at some point later on. There are a few other levels built into it as well that we’ll talk about in future installments.

I’ll talk about this topic again, since it’s obviously something I believe in quite strongly.  Thanks for reading!

Past, Present & Future

Today is my late father’s birthday.  He was born October 21, 1944 and passed on in August of 1993.  But I don’t do anything on the anniversary of his passing, preferring instead to celebrate his birthday as a time of remembrance and contemplation.

My father was a mere 48 years old when he passed.  It was, mercifully, a quick and sudden death that stunned my family greatly.  It would have been far, far worse to watch him fade away from some long-suffering disease or illness.  And as much as one grieves in any loss, one can also appreciate the fact that he didn’t suffer in his passing.

My father’s birthday always gives me great reason to reflect on what is most important in life.  Along with my father there are three other relatives on my father’s side buried with him.  Gottlieb Frederick was my great grandfather and I never knew him since he passed two years before my own birth.  He was close to 90 when he passed after having spent his life building houses when he emigrated to the US from Germany.

George Edward was always known more to me as Uncle George.  In truth, he was my father’s uncle and a great uncle to me, but we always called him Uncle George.  I remember him as a big bear of a man with a strong deep voice and big belly who drove a big Cadillac up from where he lived in Connecticut.  Many times around the holidays, I would stand at the window peering up the street trying to see when his car would suddenly round the corner and creep down toward our house.  Despite being small and young, I would always try to help him with his suitcases.  He was a lifelong bachelor who kept a lady companion and the idea of that seemed especially novel to me as I’d never heard of that before.  When he passed in the mid-80s, it was a loss I felt deeply.  I have kept his license plate that reads “ZREM” for many years.  Those of you who have known me for a while will now understand where I got my email addresses and original website.  It was a bit of a tribute to his memory.  I’ve continued that by taking his middle name for my youngest son, William Edward as well.

Marion Elizabeth was always a mystery to me.  Like her brother Uncle George, she worked on certain classified projects for the military and its civilian contractors during World War II.  She held a long career as a personal assistant at the company that would later become Texas Instruments.  When she was younger, she traveled extensively and was almost single-handedly responsible for raising my father and his two sisters when their mother passed at a very young age.  (In truth, my father was well into his rebellious 1950s teen years by then, so the idea that she “raised” him is a bit of a stretch, heh)  Marion, who for some reason I’ve never quite understood – although it probably has to do with how young kids distort names in pronunciation, was called “Marmoo” by me and my sisters growing up.  By then, she was already into her late 60s.  She was a bit strange, often standing at her window staring at us as we played.  I tended to view her as eccentric and she probably was quite so.  However, I also owe her a debt of immense gratitude.  When I was born, my parents had no idea what to name me and were a heartbeat away from settling on George Jr. when Marion suggested the name “Jon.”  Not short for Jonathan.  Just Jon.  Thankfully, my parents liked the name and I’ve been relieved ever since.  I don’t think I’d do well with a Jr. attached to my name…just sayin’.

Whenever I visit the cemetery to spend time with my father, I try to pay my respects to those who have gone before me and lie with my father.  Knowing where you come from is vital to understanding who you are in the present and who you hope to be in the future.  Forest Hills Cemetery holds other grave sites of other relatives in my family and I can remember my father taking me there when I was younger, pointing out who was where and what he knew about them.

I try to continue that tradition today.  I brought my two sons with me earlier and explained to them what I thought they could handle.  Jack, my oldest, is just starting to fathom the idea of death and what it means, but he’s filled with questions – the same questions I can remember peppering my father with at that age – about what happens and where do we go and all that jazz.  William is also fairly conscious of the idea, but he equates it to more of a physical reality than anything else.  Their natural curiosity inspires me to try to answer as best I’m able given the subject matter, aware as I am that my own belief system is somewhat different than my wife’s and the material my sons have been exposed to in church.  Right now, it’s more a blending of answers so as not to cause a conflict of beliefs.  I want my sons to explore and come to their own decisions about what life and death mean for them.

An appreciation of family starts with an acknowledgment and understanding of the past.  Who are we named for (if anyone) and what did they do in their own life.  How has what they accomplished or passed on to us affected us in the present?  And how can we take the lessons they learned and apply them to our own lives such that the future we see for ourselves is fully actualized?

I know many people who are trapped only in the present.  And in that trap they become a shell of a person – unthinking and uncaring about who they were and the lessons they were supposed to learn years ago.  Their focus is both narrow and limiting because they have forgotten whence they came and they cannot see beyond the short distance of a today to greet the grand vista of a brighter tomorrow. Their relationships suffer because of this and yet it then becomes even tougher to free themselves from the trap.  The cycle continues.

Remembrance days like my father’s birthday are a reminder to me that I need to be conscious of my own journey through life and how it should always be with a three-pronged perspective of past, present, and future.  In appreciation of the past with all its ups and downs, all its grand lessons both huge in scale and passing blinks of memory, we come to the present moment where we are able to apply the wisdom we have gained and focus it on making this the very best instant possible.  Only by doing so will we be able to bring about our sweeping vision for a happier, better tomorrow.

I hope those of you reading this will take a moment – any moment really – and think back about someone in your own family who may have affected your own life in some positive way.  Give thanks.  God knows we don’t always do that enough or appreciate the ones we claim to love the most.

In honor, memoriam, and deepest appreciation of my father George Frederick Merz.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Just a Quick Note Regarding Comments…

If you choose to post a comment (and I enjoy them, so please feel free) please note that if you come out here and spew useless regurgitated rhetoric with no logic or rationale behind it (or even a glimmer of original thought) it is likely that I will point at you and laugh quite heartily prior to dismantling your assertions with a chainsaw.

General Colin Powell Endorses Sen. Barack Obama for President

If you saw Meet the Press this morning, then you had the opportunity to witness retired General Colin Powell endorsing Senator Barack Obama as the next president of the United States of America.  Powell spoke eloquently and perfectly articulated a great deal of the same things that I have felt regarding the McCain ticket.  Among them, the erratic nature of McCain, his choice of Palin for the VP spot, the “narrowing” of the Republican Party that now excludes a great majority of more centrist Republicans as well as Independents, and vicious attacks that focus on petty aspects rather than on the overwhelming issues now facing American citizens.

For me personally, it was great to see Powell back as himself rather than as the somewhat puppet I felt he was under George W.  I had an opportunity once to meet General Powell and was very much struck by him as both a person and a warrior of the highest caliber.  It was only a meeting in passing at an event long since passed, but the magnitude of his patriotism and his personal accomplishments stayed with me for many years after.  I have watched his career with much interest and was somewhat saddened when he seemed to lose himself, even if only for a few years, under the Macchiavelan antics of George W. Bush and Company.  To see him come out today and fairly condemn the Republican Party for its tactics and philosophy is a great thing.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an Independent and have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past.  But today’s Republican Party isn’t something I would ever want to be a part of with its divisiveness and general lack of tolerance.

Powell said it perfectly: our nation needs to once again prove to the world that it is a better country than it has been in the last eight years.  A vote for McCain further prolongs the failed policies of an administration that cares little for the majority of Americans.  A vote for Obama signals a new era for our country, and indeed, for the world.  And in this age of globalism, such a thing is long overdue.

Kudos to General Colin Powell for his endorsement.  He wins my Best Person of the Day award for Sunday, October 19, 2008.

Why November 4th Can't Come Soon Enough

First, some background on me so you’ll know where I’m coming from:

I consider myself an Independent (I’m registered as one) and have voted both for Democrats and Republicans in previous elections.  I was fortunate to turn 18 back in ’88 and took pride in voting for Bush Sr. whose background in national security impressed me despite my lack of worldliness (in other words, at 18, I hadn’t exactly been many places or knew nearly as much as I liked to think I did).  I’ve made sure that I vote in every presidential election since then because (despite my belief that the electoral college needs to go) I also believe that if you don’t vote, then you don’t really have much to stand on if you start complaining.

I served in the United States Air Force and have worked for Uncle Sam.  Following that, I worked in private sector security doing a variety of jobs including executive protection.  As a result of my lifelong study of martial arts, I’ve also taught defensive tactics to a variety of government agencies including the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, and the US State Department.  A significant chunk of my adult life, therefore, has revolved around national security and personal protection.

Given these tidbits, one might think that I might be backing McCain in this election.

I’m not.

George W. Bush has been, without question, this nation’s worst president in its history.  At every level and in almost every instance he has shown an abject lack of brains, wisdom, maturity, and pretty much everything else that a president needs.  The one time I did agree with him was immediately after 9/11 when he pledged to go into Afghanistan and hunt Bin Laden and al-Qaeda down and destroy them.  I agreed because that was the right place to go into – it was the right war.  Even the way the Afghanistan action was being handled was smart.  Spearheaded by United States Special Operations Command, the conventional troops were being used as support while specops was taking the lead.  Al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and the Taliban were an unconventional enemy and that called for our best unconventional troops.

Then Iraq rolled around.  And everything changed.  No longer was our focus on hunting down and terminating the bastards responsible for 9/11.  Instead, Georgie wanted to impress his dear ol’ dad and the result is the stupidest, dumbest, most idiotic use of our military ever conceived.  The basis for the Iraq invasion was nothing but a bed of lies.  There were no WMDs.  I have many friends still serving and between those I know in the UK and those I know in the US who were charged with “finding” those WMDs, the response has always been the same: “We knew it was a bogus op.”

We’re spending $10 billion per month in a nation we shouldn’t even be near.  “Yeah, Jon, but what about Saddam?  He was so mean.”  Yep, I agree.  He was a scumbag dictator.  And we helped him get that way because of Iran.  But here’s the thing: Saddam wasn’t doing much of anything except talking a good game.  And he still had Iran to worry about.  Those two countries hated each other.  In terms of Iraq gaining any sort of heinous stockpile of ricin or related WMDs, it simply wasn’t happening in the near future.  And we had a much more pressing mission in Afghanistan.

We’ve had eight years of a morally bankrupt administration.  Cheney, Rumsfeld, all of them.  They’re scum who have denigrated the reputation of the United States via their various antics that have cost us precious resources, not the least of which are the brave souls in uniform who have paid the ultimate price.

And now we’ve got John McCain attempting to win the presidency.  As a former member of the armed forces, I salute anyone who has served the country.  But he’s no hero.  His background is a carefully constructed narrative designed to push all the buttons of those with more “patriotism” than brains.

Our current economic debacle is a direct result of many factors, but overriding them are the facts that McCain has supported the Bush policies of the past eight years.  McCain has also figured prominently in more de-regulation than should have ever been tolerated.  He is in bed with lobbyists of every stripe.  The leader of his transition team was in Saddam Hussein’s pocket.  At every instance, John McCain is a walking hypocrite and outright liar.

I’ve watched all three debates.  Perhaps more in last night’s debate than any other, those watching got a chance to observe McCain as he truly is: an angry man fed up with the fact that for all his lies, machinations, and hypocrisy, he can’t fool enough people into voting for him.  His “outrage” over his actions being paralleled with those of George Wallace was ludicrous.

Here’s a simple fact: McCain/Palin followers are shouting the most atrocious comments at their rallies.  “Kill him!” is not something that should be tolerated by either candidate, but the tone of hatred and intolerance at McCain/Palin rallies is out of control.  McCain should be ashamed that these nutjobs are even voting for him.  Instead of making a public statement last night regarding that issue, he had the unmitigated gall to sit there and whine about someone calling him out on his nasty tactics.  Any honor McCain might have once had has surely been flushed down the crapper.

The McCain we’ve seen since this campaign started has been erratic, grumpy, outright rude and condescending, and his decision to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate will surely have historians laughing or shaking their heads or both long after he has passed on.  (The real winner on the Republican side will surely be Palin herself who will no doubt coast into a comfy job at Fox News thereby providing endless hours of fun for her devotees.)

The United States of America is in desperate straits.  Our economy is a shambles.  Our national reputation is laughable.  Average, hardworking people are losing their homes and their savings.  We need a president who has the resolve and demeanor to see us through the maelstrom and get us to the other side where we can hopefully begin to repair what we’ve had broken, misused, and raped for so long.

I’ve never been as involved or cared so deeply about an election as I do this one.  While I haven’t had time to do much, I have raised several hundred dollars for the Obama campaign and my vote goes to Barack Obama on November 4th.  I will no doubt be up all night long watching the results until I know that this country – one that I love so much – is safe from four more years of the same crap we’ve already endured so much of.

With almost three weeks remaining before that date, however, I shudder to think of what underhanded and slimy things McCain will attempt.  As has been seen, nothing is off-limits and the most dangerous opponent is always the most desperate one with nothing left to lose.  Since McCain has obviously long since sacrificed his ethics and morality in his quest for personal glory and aggrandizement, I have no doubt things will get worse before we have a chance to make them better by sending the Arizona senator back to one of his seven homes, instead of the new 8th one he wants so badly.