"Meditations on Violence" by Rory Miller, a Review

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World ViolenceMeditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence by Rory Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Self-defense and martial arts schools are popping up all over the landscape promising to boost self-confidence, but more importantly, pledging to aid their attendees in self-protection. One will even find classes offered at the local “Y” or as part of a community college’s “Adult Continuing Education” program. The lessons feel right as instructors guide their learners through katas, sweaty times with kicking bags, repetitive maneuvers, and sparring. Sensei and karatekas train in ways of controlled violence that should assist the practitioners in viable personal defense. And yet one element is missing, thankfully for most of us. Just as in football training, all of the practice in blocking, running, strategy and tackling looks good, but it isn’t until being immersed in the mild bedlam of the games that one finds out if they have the mettle to hang tough, if there are flaws in their tactics,  and if the hours of practice have paid off.  It’s here that Rory Miller’s 202 page paperback, “Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence,” comes to bear. This hard-hitting, shocking book is about the “psychology of violence, ( . . . ) the psychology before and after the attack ( . . . ) with the aftereffects of violence” (153). Miller, a correctional and law enforcement officer, martial artist, Use of Force trainer and accomplished, award winning author, has had hundreds of use of force encounters and writes from his experience.

In “Meditations on Violence” the author pilots the reader through the imaginary illusions about violence that have risen from our inner stories. He moves on into the dynamics of violent episodes, describing the close proximity an assailant will likely be when they strike, along with the how and why that makes even well-trained people freeze. Miller then confronts us with the various kinds of predators, how they think and act, as well as hostage situations. After laying out this important ground work, he then addresses ways to make training more fitting for the real realities of violence. Finally, the author broaches the after-effects of an assault or combat. Much of this ending chapter surfs along an autobiographical wave, and is both touching and troubling.

For “Meditations on Violence,” self-defense is more than how to survive a one-off brawl. The author includes ways to completely avoid being preyed on, and deciphering a given hostage situation and what actions need to be taken. There are first-person examples, as well as illustrations from officers the author has worked with. The material can be gritty at times, popping up with plenty of expletives. And there are places where the author’s philosophical angst and nihilism come through and can be off-putting.  Nevertheless the overall approach, existential insight and clever wittiness is brilliantly brash, like a reviving splash of cold water to the face.

“Meditations on Violence” will likely unsettle anyone who is content and satisfied with their particular flavor of martial arts. And it will undoubtedly disturb those who live in safe environments normally thinking “That stuff can only happen to the other guy”. But if a reader will stick with the book, they will have a better understanding of the why and how and what of violence. And the wise reader will take it to heart and become better prepared to defend themselves, recognizing that it is “better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die” (136). This is a book to get on your Christmas list; and it would be smart to put it at the top.

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