Monday, March 31, 2003

Steven Funk is a Marine Reservist who plans to declare himself as a conscientious objector. He doesn't just refuse to fight, he knows that in his being he cannot kill.

Some people will say that he is a coward. Some people will say that he should have known what was going on, isn't that what the military is for? To me, Steven Funk is a warrior, whose moment of decision has come.

He had joined the military at a turning point in his life when he didn't know what to do or where to go. After going to USC, he realized that that wasn't the place for him. He, like many young men, thought the military would give him that guidance. If you note the military ads on TV, they don't show dead bodies, they don't really show people shooting a gun, though they have them. In one Marines commercial they show a knight battling a gigantic fiery dragon and the knight killing that dragon.

Once a military recruiter has your name and number they are relentless. They're pushier than evangelist religious groups. They will tell him that they can hone him into a fine young man, they will tell him all the monetary perks, they will say he will get a chance to travel the world, they discuss the adventure and comeraderie. All of which is true. But guaranteed, they do not say anything about what it means to kill someone. It is one thing to shoot a stationary target, it is different knowing that the stationary target is another human being.

And people will ask, "well, duh, didn't he know that?" It's difficult to say. I train 3 days a week learning how to hurt and kill people. The other day I was sent in to defend myself against 3 attackers. Training is merely a game. Though I did well in class, I do not really know how I will react in a real situation. The purpose of training is to attempt to push oneself as close the line of reality as possible, but training is never reality. Frankly, if the 3 attackers had been real, it might not have gone on as well.

Besides it wasn't until 2 years ago that the US even thought about going to war. Two years ago, the military's goal was to be the peacekeepers following the lead of the U.N. Up until then, we relied on "smart" bombs. We hadn't had massive ground troop deployment of reserves in decades. Even in '91 we didn't deploy that many reservists because we had a real coalition of world military.

Most people in my school have never used kali in a real world situation. And thank god, they've never had to. No one ever wants to have to use it. We all know that the potential of death is in our hands. We also understand the responsibility of that power. There is a connection between the person killed and the killer regardless of the circumstances of the death, in the same way there is a connection between the mother and the child. And sure there are very good reasons to kill, some of the more common ones are defending oneself or defending one's family, but that doesn't negate the connection that is made. And the reasons for killing are personal ones. Each person bases that decision on their own morals and principles.

Many people in kali do not even think about the time when they may have to use the kali. they're here because they like the social interaction, they like the cultural knowledge, etc. People don't join kali because they want to kill. And even if they were that type of person, they probably wouldn't last long in the class. Frankly, they'd most likely go and sign up for a gun class. It's much easier.

There have been two people in Kali that are known to have actually been presented with a moment to use their skills. One of the Guros was having dinner with a friend in Chinatown. In the bathroom, one of them had had some words with a guy there. When they left the restaurant, they were attacked by the fellow and his friend with 2 by 4 planks of wood. They spllit up hoping to take the attackers on one by one. The only thing Guro had left to defend himself against the 2 by 4 was his leftover bag of chicken. It worked. He managed to dodge enough swings. The guy got tired of swinging the 2 by 4 and ran off. We jokingly call it the Fried Chicken technique.

I am the other one. I had been taking Kali for a year or so. A friend and I were walking each other to our cars in Oakland Chinatown. There were two teenagers probably 14-15 years old walking along the other side of the street. One of them had their shirt off (it was a hot evening) and was strutting. He tried to get our attention. "hey baby, hey" He was probably no older than my own brother. My friend and I decide to ignore him in the hopes that he would go away, so we kept walking eyes fixed ahead. I note whether he has anything in his hands. We cross the first intersection. He continues to try to get us to turn around. We decide to head towards my car first since it was on the main street and well lit. The guy's friend attempts to pull him away by saying, "why you bothering them? They don't want you."

We cross the first street. We notice how he's closing the distance. We cross the second street. At this point my mind is racing with possibilities. I'm thinking about all the techniques I'd ever learned: break his leg, his arm. But what about his friend? Can I take him on too? What about my friend? My mind attempts to calculate all possible scenarios. I listen how his steps grow louder, estimate his distance now.

We cross the second street. He's closing in fast and all I remember thinking was "turn." As I turn my head to the right to look over my shoulder, his fist lands in my back and I stumble a few steps. The guy sprints off, his friend chases after him in bewilderment. I don't know what I would have done if I had gotten a chance to turn around. Because of the twist in my back as I turned, his fist landed just to the right of my spine. He would have hit squarely on it if I stayed looking forward.

For days I kept thinking about what I should have done. It replayed in my mind like a record skip. I could have broken his leg or busted his arm, if only... I attended kali class that weekend and told them about it. And how I kept thinking about what I should have done. Then Guro John told me, "that all doesn't matter. whatever you did was the right thing. I know that because you're here telling us this story. If you hadn't done the right thing, you wouldn't be here."

It took me 3 years to be able to tell that story without crying. I still see the young man running away from me. I can still feel his fear, his frustration that landed with his fist.

So perhaps Steven Funk joined the Marines in a time when he was lost in his life hoping the Marines would give him direction. And perhaps he was naive to think that he would never be sent to go kill people. But Steven Funk is facing his moment, the time of decision, to answer the question, "Am I willing to kill?" Up until this point, this question is theoretical if not rhetorical.

For those who may think of him as a coward, think of the consequences. He's not running off to exile. He's going to file his status and most likely very immediately be sent to the brig once he files his statement. It's quite possible, they will try to prosecute him for treason. He will probably wait at least 2 years before the military grants his request for discharge. He certainly made a mistake enlisting to the Marines and it's very likely he will pay for that decision by the rule sof the military. His life will not be easy, but his heart will be at peace. It is the choice he has made.

Each warrior must be able to search their hearts and find their truth. They must know in that moment why they are there and what they are killing for and whether it is worth it. They must know. When all else is gone, it is the only thing left to stand on.

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