Random Thoughts: A Mindful Miscellany

from Marcus Wynne

Posts Tagged ‘Random Thoughts

Coffee With Friends…

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I like coffee. I like coffeeshops. I like the smell and taste of good coffee, and I tolerate bad coffee when there’s nothing else to drink. I like the social aspect of coffee. I like sitting with friends and enjoying a convivial conversation on just about anything over coffee.

Today I had one of the best coffee dates of my life. It was in a little place called Richard’s Coffee Shop in Mooresville, NC. You can find their webpage here: http://welcomehomeveteran.org/

The coffee was free. The sweet treats were free. So was the conversation. My friend Bob, a Special Forces linguist and intelligence officer of the Viet Nam era took me in and introduced me around to his running buddies. I was privileged with conversation from an infantry officer who’d commanded a line company on Okinawa during WW2. A pilot who’d flown the Hump and dropped supplies to Merrill’s Marauders. An SF officer who rebuilt a C-46 and still flies it to drop paratroopers at re-enactments. A seasoned SF sniper with three grown sons who have now, after their service in Iraq, have become “not only my sons, but my brothers” through their service. A whole slew of brother paratroopers, Marines, Airmen, Navy, Coast Guard…veterans all. Enjoying coffee and company.

I was welcomed Home.

It’s a mighty fine place to be.

If you’re ever traveling in North Carolina, stop by and visit Richard’s Coffee Shop. The story’s on their web-page. If you’ve Served, come by on Thursday. Coffee’s free. So’s the conversation.

Never know who you might run into there.


Written by marcuswynne

August 29, 2013 at 7:57 pm

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Random Thoughts On Mental Training and Performance Enhancement PT 7, or Deconstructing Jerry Miculek

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I get asked, often, to take a look at videotape from various combat athletes. For one reason or another I might not be able to go to them or they to me, or it’s just easier for both parties to look at video and then confer via phone or e-mail.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the short video of the phenomenal Jerry Miculek demoing his V-drill at speed and see what lessons we might pluck from an informal analysis of his demonstration.

I’m going to keep this short, as the technical detail of elicitation and evoking high performance attributes in real-time takes *way* longer to write than to do. So I’ll just point out the process I might use (one of many) to study Master Miculek’s performance and pluck out some points that can be utilized to enhance a shooter’s performance.

One of my first considerations in selection of a model to demonstrate superior performance is to make sure that the superior performance demonstrated applies to the end-user audience. For instance, in my opinion (and I’m not interested in arguing my opinion, it’s offered freely to dismiss or consider) for shooters you need to context the demonstration of the skill *and* the context of the potential end-user. Is the shooter a 3-gun competitor? A military special operator? A police SWAT member? A citizen exercising his right to be well armed and highly proficient? The specifics of the desired end-use help shape the selection criteria for the best model.

I like this particular demonstration, as the skill-set demonstrated applies in competition as well as in tactical application, and so pertinent parts can be plucked out to suit the needs of the end-user.

Snapshot: What do we see? Watch it with the sound turned off. What’s more important now is what we SEE. Why? Shooting is a Visual-Kinesthetic (VK) skill; many things happen simultaneously that FEEL right to the user…unlike a conversation or a lecture or a blog post which requires you to make sense of words one after another and then generate a gestalt.

VK skills take place first in the realm of visual processing, where an enormous amount of data is processed simultaneously by the visual cortex and the eyes, and the body sorts that date pre-consciously by FEELING it’s way to the most useful APPLICATION.

So for you hard-core shooters out there, how would you rather learn about a new firearm handed to you:

A. Sit in a chair in a stuffy classroom and listen to a 2-hour lecture on how cool your new firearm is, read the manual front to back, watch a demonstration by someone else on how to handle the weapon…


B. Get handed your shiny new shooting iron with a basic visual demonstration of safety procedures and get to fingering it?

Your choice of A or B defines your VK learning style (or not).

So what do we see?

The shooter is relaxed, poised, confident in bearing. Notice the kinesthetic markings of his hands and body as he moves through his explanation (keep the sound off if you haven’t already turned it off — watch, don’t listen). His explanation is readily understandable without any words, yes? Why? Because he marks out exactly what he’s going to do with his body before he does it.

So what does that tell us about the internal mental processing?

He’s walking his talk, i.e. he’s walking through his internal visualization of the drill to come. Pay attention — he defines the initial start distance, walks up close and marks out his target zone specifically, touches it, marks it out with his body language, goes through the sequence, looking at each target and touching or pointing at it.

So he’s gone through the whole sequence in the much slower sequential process of verbally explaining the drill.

What do we see, then?

Relaxed and poised = confidence.
Confidence comes from what? Previous experience of success, a success he’s replicating in his real-time visualization, and a rehearsal that ends in his successful completion of his drill.

How does he know? He feels it. It’s body knowledge. He walks it through, watch his carriage, the direction of his gaze, the marking of his hands. If he were wearing a device to track his neurology (soon, maybe…) you could track the sequence of warm-up to activation of the shooting sequence, first visually in rehearsal and then in real-time.

What kind of presuppositions can we imagine?
Training and critique (which he shares in his discussion about the need to stay focused; watch his body language there).
Control of internal time sense (ability to walk through in talking slow time and then execute in dramatically faster VK processing time)


Check out what happens to his face and body set when he sets his weapon up. This is something he’s done countless millions of time, notice the sequence that starts with his muscle tension shifting as he rotates the weapon up and acquires the offset red-dot and starts his engagement…watch it a couple of times and then watch what happens when he drops that state when he safes his weapon —

That’s a man who has just completed a visual-kinesthetic cognitive track that he’s run through several times while we’ve watched *before* he does it in real time to an extraordinary level.

Lessons for the shooter seeking improvement:

Confidence doesn’t come just from burning ammo. Comes from perfect visualization coupled to perfect performance and using that as a foundation.

Processing information the way you need to *use* it — visually first and feeling your way to the “rightness” of it.

Practicing 75% to 90% visually and dry (especially in days of ammo shortages) and reinforcing that mental rehearsal with a validating run…and running it till you have validation.

Making mistakes and embracing the mistakes. And then run your visualization around that particular mistake, focusing on three to five solutions that work through that problem in real time and conclude in a successful run.

More points as I think of them later, but that’s a snapshot of a process that’s much easier to do in real time than by writing it through…


PS: The latest chapter of THREE’S WYLDE, Chapter Three, is up today on Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/313937

Written by marcuswynne

May 7, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Random Interesting Things…

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Here’s an Old Guy showing the Young Guns how it’s done:

My friends all know my love of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction; this gem by the astonishing duo of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is one of the *funniest* takes on the Apocalypse I’ve ever read:


This graphic is a pretty cool overview of what’s minimally necessary in an emergency kit or “Bug Out Bag”:


I’m working on two books and a variety of articles (one will be forthcoming in John Robb and Shlok Vaidya’s http://www.resilientcommunities.com) as well as some blog posts. Think the next thing will be a gear round up. Or something else completely Random.

Stay tuned for another chapter of THREE’S WYLDE, available only via Smashwords for the time being. Thanks to my beta readers for your comments and notes; I guess I could turn down the f-bomb usage, however, that is *exactly* how people in those circumstances talk…as one of my teachers at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop opined…”Marcus has a grasp on the most pungent aspects of the colloquial…”

That’s fancy talk for “I swears a lot sometimes, jist like real pipples.”


The Cognitive Neuroscience folks at DARPA are undergoing some changes to reflect the massive influx of attention and funding that last month’s announcement of the BRAIN initiative generated https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRAIN_Initiative — I’m looking forward to my next visit out there:

Written by marcuswynne

May 1, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Blast From The Past – John “Lofty” Wiseman on Military and Police Special Operations

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During a past life, when I toted a gun for a living, I had the privilege and benefit of training and working with the very best operators of my era. One of those men was Lofty Wiseman. I met Loft during the first CQB Services training course offered in the United States. I then coordinated US operations for CQB Services for some years. We did military and law enforcement training in high threat close protection, hostage rescue and advanced tactical operations. We also from time to time ran courses that were open to the public.

Lofty is a very rare bird: legendary special operator, best selling author, master survival instructor, motivational speaker. He is funny enough to have made a living as a professional comedian, and counts water colors, golf and wood working among the skills he maintains.

As you’ll see from reading the interview (first published in GUNS AND WEAPONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT in 1996) Lofty is also the Godfather of American Special Operations. He was involved in the start-up of just about every major US Tier One Unit. I believe this to be the only unclassified interview Lofty ever gave on this subject. I find it interesting to compare his thoughts from the 90s to what’s happening in military and special operations today.


Written by marcuswynne

August 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm

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A Random Post with Random Thoughts For Today

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I just realized I haven’t posted for a week and a half. All three of you who actually follow this blog, thanks for your patience! I’ve come in off a three month road trip. One thing I worked on while on the road is a series of posts I’ll be putting up on John Robb’s blog Resilient Communities; I’ll also continue posting some of those here along with other random miscellany.

Upcoming posts will include:

Gear reviews: Ares Gear Gun Belt, Raven Concealment Holsters, Kelty MAP 3500 back pack, Salomon Fastpacker boots, Bio-Lite stove (also over on John Robb’s blog), Ken Brock Badger (custom knife), etc.

Resilience: What is a resilient community? How to build the social structure that underpins true resilience. Lightweight emergency bag and inexpensive preparation advice for families on budgets.

Interviews: Karl Sokol, master gunsmith to the special operations gunfighters; John “Lofty” Wiseman, survival master and legendary special operator on the difference between law enforcement and military special operations; John Robb on “Why Resilient Community?” and so on…

Writing: Snippets from the upcoming WYLDE novel and some short story experiments.

Training: More neural-based exercises and some insights into how human performance and cognitive neuroscience are being integrated into the most cutting edge training programs for the tip of the spear gunfighters.

Random thoughts: Whatever I think of after I’ve had coffee.

Thanks for reading; stick around, the show will get going sooner than later now that I’m back….

Written by marcuswynne

August 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm

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Richard Smith, 1957-2012

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Last week the international special operations community lost a respected member. Last week I lost a friend. Rich Smith was my friend and today I remember and honor him.

I first met Rich in 2006, at an invitation-only training event I presented in the UK. I knew Rich by reputation, as he’d trained with my long-time friend Dennis Martin, and he worked closely with my brother-from-another-mother Clint Oosthuizen, the lead CQB instructor for the South African Police Service.

Rich was the oldest student in the class, same age as me, and just a few years younger than Dennis. Despite his age he dominated much younger and fitter operators throughout the training. Tough, quiet, and fierce when he switched on, he was — in a word — formidable.

Dennis, Rich and Clint in an early CQB Services Close Protection course.

We talked a lot while we were there in the UK, and that was the beginning of a long-distance friendship that continued via Skype and e-mail.

Rich (second from left) at the Neural-Based Instructor Course.

Rich began his special operations career as a very young man in Rhodesia. He was an operator with the Rhodesian SAS, and later worked with other special operations units. More recently he did several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan working on contract for various organizations.

Rich on the job.

He was a warrior. He was a man who lived and breathed the warrior’s ethos. Deeply intelligent and well read, he enjoyed hashing out training concepts and theory and putting them to the test in the real world.

He was humble. Modest to a fault. He never spoke of his A-List military lineage or his deep body of experience, but was always willing to share the expertise he’d developed over a lifetime. Rich walked the walk and never talked. His experience shone out of everything he did – at least to the trained eye.

He was a gentleman. An Old School gentleman who embodied in everything he did the heritage of English, Rhodesian, and South African manhood.

Rich and I were working together on a training project and I’d planned to meet up with him in Sierra Leone or South Africa, at his base in Durban, later this year. I may make that trip and visit his resting place. Rich believed in the Old Religion of Odin/Wotan, and practiced the Warrior’s Path. In his belief, warriors received a special place in the Hall of Valhalla, a seat earned by their Service in going in harm’s way on behalf of others — their family, their clan, their tribe, their community, their country. Their friends.

Rich spent his entire life in Service, taking lives and saving lives, and he’s earned his seat of honor in the Warrior’s Hall.

May you rest well, my friend, and may you always be honored in accordance with all that you have earned.

Rest well, my friend.

Written by marcuswynne

August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm

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What matters most is how well you walk through the Fire ~ Charles Bukowski

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Written by marcuswynne

July 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm

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$1.83 and A Half-Tank of Gas

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I’ve just come off an epic road trip with my 11 year old son. Our summer road trips are a tradition we started when he was six years old. In 2007 I had just received medical clearance to go back to work, and had just started at my first “regular” job after continuous self-employment since 1993. I had the time off, but limited funds and could not afford to fly us both out to California. I remember looking at my son, who was desperate to see his family — especially his beloved cousins — out in California and saying to him, “You know, Hunter, I think we can drive to California.”

His eyes got big. “Dad? You can drive a car that far?”

I said, “Hunny, I could drive to the moon if there was a road.”

And that was how the tradition started. We did 6482 miles on that trip, measured by my handheld GPS. We stayed with friends along the way, as we were on very limited funds, and even slept in the car once. It was an epic adventure for a six year old.

That was the Central Route. We did that again, and then we did the Southern Route. This year, at his request, we did the Northern Route and it was, once again, an epic journey.

Road trips start off as a cheap vacation and, as journeys often do, morph into something much more significant and meaningful, at least to this writer and his male offspring. Road trips are our version of the Epic Quest, in which we set out in search of something — an experience, a pilgrimage, a discovery — and we discover along the way that the journey itself is the purpose and that the discovery, through the many adventures and encounters along the way, is an internal one, a soulful and spiritual exploration while traveling through the unfamiliar.

Which is a fancy way of saying that road trips are all about the journey and what we learn about ourselves and our traveling companions along the way. Speaking of companions, my son loves the Paul Simon song “Graceland” with it’s line that goes like this: “My traveling companion is nine years old, he is the product of my first marriage…” He gleefully edits it and shouts out his version: “My traveling companion is ELEVEN years old, and he is the product of YOUR THIRD MARRIAGE!”


So what were some of our epic insights? Deep seated love and joy in the company of one another. Sharing responsibility for accounting, navigation, meal planning and watching out for the other. The conversations that ensue when both of us are tired and let our personas fade and our True Selves rise up. Discovering that adventure doesn’t come in a can and can’t be planned for, that it’s all about our attitude and being open to and aware of what’s happening right in front of us, right now, and acting appropriately. That helping people and then disappearing after we help them is hugely satisfying. And discovering how self-reliant we can be in the face of hardship.

And what were some of our adventures? Watching predators prowl the modern day waterhole, the road side rest stop. Hanging out with one of the top female martial artists in the world. Being in the middle of a huge natural disaster and helping other people and getting through just fine. Being completely off the grid — no cell phone, no internet, no TV, occasional power and no running water. Using a real outhouse. Watching a master gunsmith craft a gunfighter’s pistol. Seeing a grizzly bear run through the yard of a friend’s homestead, and having a pack of coyotes race under our window at dawn. Watching Hunter go off with a mountain lion hunter to scout and run the dogs. Watching a master sniper prep a 1000+ yard shot. Driving Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park in zero visibility with fog. Driving 23 hours non-stop…just to see a beloved cousin. Throwing fish at Pike’s Market. Talking roller derby with a Roller Derby Queen who is also a practicing clinical psychologist. Meeting my childhood friends and other life-long friends who told him tales about his Dad. Seeing places we’d never seen before and, in the process, learning so much more about who the both of us really are.

The greatest gift you can give a child is teaching them to be self-reliant, adventurous and gleeful problem solvers. They’ll need that skill set in the world that’s taking shape. Money doesn’t buy that. You don’t get it off the shelf. You have to make it.

Oh, and the title of this post? That’s how much money I had left in my pocket and how much gas was left in the car when we rolled into my brother’s driveway. We managed. It doesn’t cost much to have a great time teaching a child the lesson that he can have an amazing time chock full of adventures. It just requires time, love, self reliance and a spirit of adventure.

Give that to a child. You’ll change their lives forever.

Written by marcuswynne

July 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm

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Friendship in the Age of Facebook (and a short story)

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I have a lot of scars. Over one hundred on my body, and who knows how many others on my psyche, LOL. But there’s one scar, an X on the palm of my right hand, that’s all about friendship.

I have a friend who, when I was young, was like an older brother to me. Not a light thing, since I was the oldest of six. My friend, we’ll call him P, was the youngest son of a rowdy and occasionally violent clan that hunted, drank and on occasion were pursued by the police.

With P, I learned how to shoot, killed deer, walk for miles through the mountains with a BB gun and an old army canteen (at the age of 8…can you imagine that today?). One summer, after a particularly epic day, we were camped out in his backyard and we decided that we would swear undying friendship. So we took out our knives (how many 8 and 11 year olds are allowed to have and carry their own pocket knives these days?) and cut an X into each of our right hands, and then shook hands and swore undying friendship to each other. Our blood mingled in that handshake, and for many years, we were like brothers to each other.

Things changed, and so did we, and as is the nature of friendship, we drifted apart. We still on rare occasions see each other, and while our lives are very different, we still shake hands and embrace and relive that connection.

I have another friend I served with in the Army. He’s retired now and lives in the wilds of Montana. Our friendship has survived long silences, which is one of the measures of the pre-Facebook friendship paradigm — because of our work situations we would sometimes go years without speaking to each other, but when we did, we took up right where we left off, as though there was no time lost at all.

As a person with interest in perception management, public relations, social media and the nature of human communication, I’m fascinated intellectually by how the definition of friendship has changed and evolved. Fascinated intellectually and troubled on an emotional level.

It seems now that the working definition of friend is someone you text message or IM or Facebook, instead of someone you go out and have experiences and fun with. It seems now that a friendship is defined in phosphors on a screen instead of face to face interactions and a shared base of experience and common memories.

I find it troubling because I carry a lot of Old School definitions in my cerebrum — one of the advantages or disadvantages of being Old.

A friend is someone who shows up.
A friend is someone you talk to in person, face to face, or on the phone.
A friend is someone who trusts you and who you trust in return.
A friend is committed long term to your well being.

I wrote a story about the nature of friendship between two soldiers which I’ll post here below. Kind of sums up my whole position.


By Marcus Wynne

My name had come down from headquarters for an overseas levy, so I left Fort Bragg, North Carolina and the 82d Airborne Division behind me, and traveled to South Korea on orders for the 2d Infantry Division. I was in the two block long in-processing line at Camp Coiner in Seoul when a grim-looking airborne ranger sergeant pulled me out of the line.

“You’re Miller?”

“That’s right, Sergeant.”

He had my 201 personnel file. Over a cup of coffee in his office, he asked me about my experience in long-range reconnaissance with the 82d, and especially about my close quarter battle skills in unarmed combat and pistol shooting.

“I’ve got a job for you, Sergeant Miller. I can’t tell you what specifically, but I think you’ll enjoy it more than running a mech platoon in 2d Division.”

“What kind of job?”

“A special one,” was all he would say.

I volunteered for the job, and was assigned to a special unit which hunted North Korean Special Forces infiltration teams within the Demilitarized Zone. The isolated compound we operated from was a lonely huddle of weathered Quonset huts ringed in concertina wire, watchtowers and minefields pressed against the southern boundary of the Demilitarized Zone. I stood in the morning formation next to a big man wearing jump wings on his fatigues . He was six feet tall, and weighed at least 200 pounds, heavy and thick through the shoulders, with a square, broad face. His nose bent to the left with knotted cartilage from a old break. Nunn, his nametape read.

“Nunn,” I said. “Weren’t you with the 1/17 Cav at Bragg?”

He looked at me for a long moment. “Yeah,” he said. “Where do I know you from?”

“The raid on the 2/325 TOC.”

He nodded. “I remember you.”

John Nunn and I worked together there. Nunn, for all his size and muscle — half-rhino and half-grizzly, as he liked to say — was silent and graceful when we went out into the night. He melted like a shadow through the trees and brush, and slipped silently through the rice paddies; the only sound we heard when he passed was the whisper of branches and the night breeze in the trees. He was a superb shot. Once, in hot pursuit, he rolled into the prone, set up, and fired one shot from his M-16, all in less than ten seconds, and killed a fleeing North Korean, the sole survivor of his assassination team, at a measured 273 yards.

I was the planner, the organizer. John walked the point on the patrols I planned and led. I carried his slack and watched his back. We never worked without the other. On practice alerts and real-world callouts, we rode into the DMZ at night, the Quick Reaction Force trucks packed with our troops, their eyes wide and white in their green-painted faces, their rifles, machine-guns and grenade launchers bristling through the wooden slats above the armor plate of the truck bed; once we crossed the border under fire to rescue a lost 2d Infantry Division patrol, pinned down in the middle of a minefield and taking fire from two sides.

John got the Soldier’s Medal for that. I wrote him up for it. We were six hundred yards on the wrong side of the North Korean border, in the middle of a minefield, and with the better part of a North Korean platoon putting fire on us, their green tracers hanging in the chill night air. John ran back and forth between the medevac chopper and the perimeter we held around the wounded men. Each time he picked up one of the wounded and carried him back to the helicopter. When we landed at the UN Command helipad, there were 47 jagged bullet holes in the metal and glass of the unarmored medical helicopter.

We both got our first taste of “covert operations” there. John got his medal, despite the resistance of the politicians in higher command. Everyone involved signed classified nondisclosure agreements about the incident, and the narrative of John’s award was changed to read “unspecified action on the North Korean border.” If it had been a real war, instead of a non-event accomplished by a unit that didn’t exist, he would have won the Medal of Honor.

We saved some lives together there.

And we took some.

It’s hard to describe the relationship we built. Some compared it to a marriage, like an old couple that knows each other’s every thought and finishes each other’s sentences. Now that I’ve been married I understand. In the best marriages, or in the best times of a marriage, there’s a fusion at the cellular level, where the cells and skin and bones and nerves and eyes and brain of the other sound with the same thoughts and the same feelings. It’s two people who are separate, but operate as though they were part of a larger being, a larger spirit that moves through both of them.

There is an urgency like love in the communion between men whose lives depend on one another. I can see that now. We never talked about it then. We never talked about our respect or our admiration for each other. It seemed unmanly and unprofessional, a violation of the warrior’s unspoken code of conduct. We were afraid that if we spoke of it we might ruin it, sully it in some way. We didn’t want to tamper with the mechanism our lives depended on. It was more important to do it than to talk about it.

We did our time on the line and, after 18 months, we went separate ways. John went back to Fort Bragg for the Special Forces Qualification Course, and I quietly left the Army and went to work with the organization that we mockingly referred to as the Christians In Action. They had followed our unit’s activities with interest, and a man I had thought was a diplomat became my sponsor after I had operated as his bodyguard for a time on loan. I went through the training course at Camp Peary, and was put back in the field conducting special security operations in Asia, where my languages and previous operational experience served me well.

In the business, old friends often go for years without exchanging more than a few words. The few people who really know you learn not to ask about what you’re doing or who you are when they see you. It’s part of living a compartmented life. Over here is your real work, over there is your cover, over here is your love life, and over there are the people you work with. In the middle of all that fragmentation and chaos, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you can make order of it all.

Where does that leave you in your relationships with the people who love you and care for you? How was your day? What did you do? Who did you meet? How are things going? These are questions you can’t answer with the truth. You use some variant of the truth, a not-lie, a not-truth, something drawn from the gray world between black and white. When the substance of your life is made up of lies you must tell in order to survive, your friendships, those precious few that survive, are the foundation stones on which you base your sanity.

I lived with that for a long time, until I found myself in a dingy office above a ryokan in Kyoto. Through the window I watched the lunch time crowds walking over the Higashiyama bridge into the Gion district. On the hillside across the Kyoto valley the giant golden Kwannon stared back at me. On the desk before me were three sets of documentation — passports, credit cards, driver’s licenses — with different names and different lives, but all of them with my face. There was a woman in the next room, an artist on an exchange program to the Kyoto Crafts Center, a beautiful and gentle woman who had just told the man she thought was a writer that she loved him. She was humming, the contented sound of happiness, something I knew nothing about. And that day I folded those documents away, and went in to hold her, and went back to the world.

But only for a while. The secret world is like the perfect mistress: discreet, dangerous, and intoxicating. Once you have her in your blood, you’ll never really get her out. She’s always there, and, if you’re good, she’ll never say no when you turn to her in the middle of the night.

It was in Iowa City, Iowa, that John and I met again. I was there to complete a master’s degree in English as part of my cover, while actually talent spotting for the Agency recruiters among the Asian writers and exchange students in the translation program. John and I had kept in touch through letters and phone calls over the years. He was driving from Pennsylvania, where he had been visiting his family, to Wyoming for some hunting. He showed up on my doorstep with a six-pack of Rolling Rock in one hand and a blueberry pie his mother had sent in the other.

“Well, John,” I said. “Here we are.”

He grinned, the twisted cartilage of his broken nose knotting between his eyes. “The Rhino and the Greyhawk, reunited.”

I set him down on the couch with a beer in his hand and we talked and talked, the way we had when we were younger, sitting on the bunker roof looking out over the DMZ towards North Korea. We talked about our fathers and the legacies they had left us; the messages we grew up with and what we made of them; what we would have changed; what we would do if, and only if, we ever made time for a child in our lives. We were both oldest sons and the gypsies of our broods: catholic families of six or more kids, blue collar ethnic families that were proud of what little they knew about our vaguely defined lives. John loved his father, at least more than I loved mine, distant and unresponsive figure that he was, small and gray at the edge of my youth.

“So how is the old man?” I asked when I freshened our drinks.

“Something changed, after he figured out he couldn’t whip me no more,” John said. “You know, we always fought, as long as I can remember. My ma, she says it’s because we’re both so much alike. Too much alike. We just look at each other and see the parts of ourselves that we don’t like and we hit out at them, try to knock them away. Well, we can’t do that to each other anymore. Ever since he hurt his back, he ain’t been the same, not as strong, you know. And hell, I can’t swing on him, I’m likely to kill him. Last time, my ma just got in between the two of us — she’s just a little bit, you remember what she’s like — and she’s screaming at the two of us, and she don’t ever scream, raise her voice at all, you know, ‘Stop it, stop it!’ she says, ‘You two are killing me with all this fighting, just stop!’ And me and the old man just stood there looking at each other, and something, something changed. We still fight, but you know, they seem all the worse for there being no blows thrown.”

“Fighting is all I know how to do, Dale. And since we ain’t got the fighting between us anymore, it’s like we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.”

There is a short verse by an anonymous author that goes like this:

You served your country for years and years.
Many laughs through many fears.
That life ends now, so another can start,
But a soldier you’ll always remain at heart.

Where did John and I learn to live with the soldier’s heart? It wasn’t in the structured deprivation and degradation of the training courses, or in the experience of applying those hard won skills. There was something more, something elemental in us, and in those other warriors we knew — something learned in the cradle, something learned from our fathers, either from their presence or their absence. It seemed to work both ways. There is a dark joy that rises in us and spills over into our voice or our hands. The self-nourishing nature of that beast makes it something we both love and fear. Once we’ve fed it on the hearts of the people who loved us or tried to love us, on the places we’ve been and the things that we’ve done, it becomes the most faithful companion you can imagine: a dark shadow at the corner of your vision coloring everything that you do, and every relationship you enter into.

To outsiders, everything that we do is colored with such high ideals: service to country, freedom, “to free the oppressed.” Or at least it seems so. It was much simpler to us. Behind the tradition and all those words was our love of the rush. It was our love for the adrenaline kick that carried us through our fear, whether it was leaping out of a C-141 at 30,000 feet, or smiling across the table at the bearded man whose betrayal will bring down the terrorist ring.

I think that the key line is ‘Many laughs through many fears.’ We were afraid together. That was our bond. We went through fear into the clean white light of fighting rage together. It wasn’t just the fear that comes from facing stiff odds or the technical mishaps that come about in special ops, but the larger fear, the fear that lurked at our cores: the fear of being found wanting at the time of the test, the fear of letting down the brothers-in-arms with whom we had prepared so hard and so long for those moments of sheer terror when we rode that adrenaline high through into the sudden let-down and fatigue of victory. It was the fear of being afraid. It was living for the laughter afterwards, the drunken, maudlin reminiscing over drinks days or years later, remembering a particular thing gone wrong, the look on someone’s face. And the love that engendered, unspoken and strong, communicated in glances and shrugs between us. Fear and love. Love of each other, love of the hunt. That’s what’s in the soldier’s heart.

John and I met again in Minneapolis, where I had been quietly organizing the training doctrine for what would become a new counter-terror unit targeted at air piracy and attacks against civil aviation. I was living alone. The years of a double life had taken its toll on my wife, and me, and the frayed remnants of our marriage.

“Dale, how the hell are you?” John said.

The years had not been kind to John Nunn. His hair, worn long as was allowed under special grooming standards, was streaked with gray on both temples. He was still huge and bearish in the armchair I put him in, a Heineken in his hand. His back twisted and stooped from a fused vertebra, the result of too many years under a rucksack.

“It’s been a year,” I said. “What brings you back to the world?”

“It’s my mother, Dale. She’s got cancer eating her up inside. They, the goddamn doctors, don’t know how long she’s gonna make it.” He drank from his beer. “I’m afraid of her not making it, man. I’m afraid for her. It’s like she’s all alone there, the old man, he don’t know what to do with himself, he just wanders around like he’s been hit in the head.”

“Where is she now?”

“She’s at the house. My sister is looking after her. She don’t want to stay in the hospital. She wants to be home, around all her things. You know how women are about that kind of thing.” His hands were wrapped tight around the neck of his beer bottle, his thumbs stroking the condensation into a stream across his knuckles.

“How’s she taking it, John?”

He shook his head and looked away. “All she worries about is me and the old man. I got into this beef with one of the doctors, I mean, these assholes can’t ever get a straight answer to her, and you know, they’re simple people, my ma and them, these guys are like doctors, and whatever they say is gospel, and none of them want to ask any questions. So I didn’t like the answer this guy was giving me, so I got in his face, and me and him are yelling at each other, and then the old man is yelling at me, telling me not to disturb ma, so we’re all out there, and I hear ‘John? John, come in here please.’ And so I go on in, and the doctor and the old man are still outside, beefing it, and she is in these little slippers, and those cheap goddamn ratty bathrobes they give you in the hospital, you’d think that with what they charge they could afford something nice for an old woman, or at least let her wear one of her own, but there’s some kind of damn regulation against that too. So she’s standing there, her hand on my arm, and she’s saying ‘Please, John. Don’t fight with your father. There’s no need.’ Okay, ma, I say. ” The corners of his mouth turned down, taut and trembling. “So I help her back into the bed. The chemo and the radiation leave her all weak. They took her home a couple of days later. Me and the old man, we’re not talking to each other. I took off for a couple of days, saw this old girlfriend of mine. I came back and saw to my sister taking care of my ma, and then I had to head back to Lewis. Thought I’d come by and see you.”

He hunched deeper in his chair. His shoulders, massed and sloping with old muscle, curled round as though to protect something precious and small clutched to his chest.

“She just loves you, John,” I said. “You and your dad, you’re her boys. You’re her only oldest son, and that’s special to her. She loves you and wants only the best for you.”

“I know.”

“You ever tell her that you know? You ever tell her?”

“She knows, Dale. ” He shifted in his seat, set his beer down. “Yeah, I say it to her. We’re not like that, my family. We don’t talk about it, we just do it.”

“That’s the best reason for just telling her, just flat out saying it, John. I learned something from my marriage, John, and it’s this: it’s more important for guys like us to say it. We get so caught up in doing, in the demonstration, or what we think is the demonstration of how we feel, that we forget that the language we send that message in isn’t always the language the people who love us speak.”

I remembered my wife and I shouting at each other in one of our endless arguments. I had felt as though we were in two different countries, shouting across the border in different dialects, picking out only every other word and then only in the wrong context.

“You got more leave coming to you?” I said.

“As much as I need.”

“You got to go back and make it right with them, John. You can’t take the chance that she’ll slip away. You don’t want her to remember you leaving like that. You owe her more than that. She needs that from you now. She needs you not to fight. She needs you to love her, and your old man. And just to tell them that. Tell them in words they can understand.”

There is a battlefield we all carry inside us: a battlefield lined with the long ranks of all those we have loved, or tried to love, and those who have loved us, or tried to love us. It’s on that field that the battle turns, first one way and then another, a blind nosing towards some kind of unity, a oneness, with someone, maybe even ourselves. That’s where the Great Battle is played out in the soldier’s heart. Some of us are winners at the end of the day. Others are carried from the field. And others retire, having never known defeat or victory.

I saw John Nunn face the change we all face in the middle of our lives, the necessary accommodation to the demands of the heart; I see him there in the hospital, late in the night, surrounded with light from a solitary bedside lamp, holding his mother’s hand, not saying those necessary words, but mouthing them, under his breath, trying them out.


Written by marcuswynne

June 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

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Memorial Day, 2012: In Memory of Dangerous Men

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“The hardest thing about growing old is that other men no longer see you as dangerous…” from ACT OF VALOR

“Arlo, I’m not saying you’re a lion in winter, but your roar ain’t what it used to be.” Boyd Crowther in JUSTIFIED

I have a friend who commands one of the most respected European military special operations units. He’s received the highest decoration for courage under fire that the United States government can give a foreign military officer. Six years ago, he attended an invitation-only training course I presented in Europe.

I was, at the time, a wreck. I was recovering from a bout with colon cancer, systemic infection that had wiped out my kidney and lung function and led to a near-death-experience, nine major surgeries, a hellish divorce and custody fight, impoverishment and depression.

Dennis Martin of CQB Services in the UK, my long time friend and collaborator, organized the training and brought me over. It was a great gift of friendship, as I was completely broke and essentially unable to work. Dennis insisted I present a training course on my neural-based training concepts to an audience of the top European and African martial arts instructors, law enforcement trainers and military special operations personnel.

My friend, I’ll call him K, was one of those attending. After several days of intense training, the program was opened up to a larger general audience of martial arts instructors, law enforcement instructors and military personnel. On that day, I was sitting in the corner, leaning on my cane, completely exhausted by the work I’d done.

One of the new students looked at me and said to his partner, “Is that Marcus Wynne?” At the same time, another new participant pointed at me and said to his partner, “Oi, who’s that fat old wanker?”

I laughed so hard I thought I’d bust the stitches in my gut.

The latter guy was grabbed by one of the instructors and taken off into the corner, and then returned to apologize. I laughed and held up my hand and said, “Dude, you were right the first time. No need to apologize, but thanks anyway.”

I sat there and, for the first time in my life, was the Old Fat Wanker sitting on the side of the class, watching my friends, colleagues and former students in front leading the way. It’s hard to describe — unless you’ve been there — what it’s like to go from being the guy in charge, the guy in front, the guy teaching or leading, to the guy on the sidelines.

After a while, I went outside and sat on a bench and listened to the sounds from the gym: laughter, shouts, the smack of pads. My friend K came out and sat next to me. He said, “How are you, Marcus?”

I told him. About what it felt like to no longer be considered dangerous among dangerous men, to feel weak among the strong, to be the lion in winter.

He listened. He got it. And he said this to me, something I will never forget:

“Marcus, something all of us who go in harm’s way must go through is age. The body cannot keep up forever. Sooner or later, the body betrays the will. And then it’s time to do something else. For you, it came earlier and harder than for some.”

He paused.

“You don’t have to be the one in front anymore. You don’t have to be the one leading the way. You don’t have to be the one to kick the door. That time is past for you. What you have, and what you can still give, what you gave us this week through your gift in teaching, is experience. That’s what you have that younger men don’t. You can give that to us. And through us, with your teaching, we will give that to so many more. You have always been of Service. You still can be. You still are. Through your Service, you have value.”

Value earned through Service going in harm’s way on the behalf of others.

I’ll take that. And with great thanks of gratitude, love and respect for my friend K.

Today is about Service.

It’s about the millions who have laid down their lives in Service to Others, those who went in harm’s way on behalf of others. And those that are still out there, on the streets and in the desert and in the mountains and the jungles of the world, being dangerous in the Service of Others.

Deep felt thanks of gratitude and love to all of them — past, present and future — for their service and their sacrifice, and the sacrifice their families must accept as a consequence of that service.

Remember them, today, and for all of the other Old Lions out there, a hat tip and a glass raised to you on this day.

Thank you and God Bless You.

This quote from Chief Tecumseh is dedicated to those we remember this day:

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

Chief Tecumseh Shawnee Nation

Written by marcuswynne

May 28, 2012 at 1:55 am

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