People in general think and behave in a clockwise fashion. This was a lesson that I learned very early on with my instructor. This lesson would be reinforced a thousand-fold as my training with him progressed. More importantly, as our personal relationship grew, I was given an insight into his views of the world that have largely governed how I conduct my life to the present day.
I was often amazed at how he could take a technique, perform it, and immediately, without hesitation, do it in reverse. What made this most impressive was that he could do it with razor sharp Samurai Swords. He could do it blindfolded. I attributed it to the years and years of practice.
I was partially right. I was mostly wrong.
The reason behind his remarkable, yet unorthodox skill, resulted from what most people today would classify as a handicap or a limitation.
My instructor is dyslexic. He is now in his late sixties. I have volumes of notes and writings that he has given me over the years. If you did not know this about him, you probably would never notice it. You may attribute the two most common characteristics of his dyslexia in his writing to a quirk. He writes the letter “S” and the number “3” backwards.
This remarkable man, probably one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, did something that would be scoffed at by the scientific and medical communities. He adopted dyslexia as a strength. He learned how to harness seeing things in reverse to his advantage. He was able to look at things, process what he saw, and use it to his advantage. What most people saw as wrong he saw as a mirror image.
“You have an ability to see things others’ can’t Sensei.”
I remember this conversation one evening. I am not dyslexic. I do not have a learning disability. What I do have is something that many people see as a nuisance or an eccentricity. I have always looked at the world differently, and this began at a very early age for me. I look at the world, human behavior, and my reaction to it in a counterclockwise fashion. Perhaps this is the reason it was so easy for me to adapt to my instructor’s unorthodox, and often brutal, teaching methods.
I’ll ask you to perform an experiment. Retrieve a sheet of paper. As quickly as you can in a vertical column, write down the English alphabet. Easy, right? Of course it is, because it is the foundation of our mother tongue if you are from an English-speaking country. Now, on the opposite side of the paper in a vertical column, as fast as you can, write the alphabet down in reverse order. Many of you will find this to be cumbersome if not difficult. That would make you normal because your brain is processing information in a sequential fashion. Everything has a place, and everything has an order to it.
Leading up to my one of my Black Belt tests beyond the first degree, my instructor gave me a test that seemed ridiculous. He handed me a single work glove that fit on my right hand. The task was simple: take it off. There were rules, however. You could not use your other hand to remove the glove, nor could you use another body part of foreign object as an aid. You could not use your fingers inside the glove in a pinching fashion. You had to figure out a way to extract your hand from this glove, using only the hand that was already inside the glove.
This type of thinking is foreign to most people. Consider an analog wristwatch, and consider the hands pointing out to the world that it is 3 o’clock. One way of thinking in the way in which my instructor and I think is to reverse the workings of the watch so that it runs in reverse. At 3 o’clock, the hands espouse that it is 9 o’clock. This does not erase the observable fact that it is in fact 3 o’clock. What it does is allow you to do is see the world and its workings from a perspective that is spherical, not linear. Linear thinking leads to an end. Spherical thinking has infinite possibilities.
My close associates know that I had a brusque collision with the law several years ago that would alter the course of my life. The circumstances of the case were miasmic in terms of my personal and professional life. Yet because of my training, and the ways in which my instructor was able to harness the ways in which I process information, that painful period of my life was also one of the most profound and productive.
At present, across the globe we are ensconced in turmoil as a result of the spreading pandemic of Covid-19, alternately termed the Corona Virus. The panic associated with the unknown nature of the pandemic coupled with the threat of social upheaval has led to some intriguing human behaviors, such as hoarding toilet paper. This is a bizarre behavior, but in reality what it exemplifies is the bizarre nature of our current situation. The behavior is a non-issue. The real issue involved in the present crisis is the disruption of normalcy, coupled with the idea that normal modes of thinking have been upended.
There will be a certain group of people that will thrive during this crisis and will continue to thrive well past the end of this unfortunate drama. I am not speaking of preppers, nor am I speaking of military members or veterans from such notable services and units such as the United States Marine Corps or the United States Navy SEAL teams. I am speaking of seasoned criminals that have honed their craft through trial and error in a world that is defined by chaos, uncertainty, and flux.
Many jurisdictions have ordered shelter in place decrees in order to stem the progress of the virus. I fully support such measures. There are unintended consequences however. Already, there are reports of people suffering mentally and emotionally from isolation and the loss of contact with friends, family, and the outside world in general. The chaos being witnessed in grocery stores is nothing short of normal because people in general do not operate well in chaos. When isolation and chaos intersect, a recipe for disaster has been written.
Criminals that have been incarcerated or secluded by other means from society are used to isolation. This isolation is not only physical. Isolation takes the form of social ostracism that is based on moral norms held by society at large. The criminal is an outcast that is on the outside looking in. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities that have been used for good or evil are now castigated as tools of the menace. Having been tagged a felon, they are forever cast to the outskirts of a society that places great emphasis on labels. Now, they stand on the precipice of being one of the few groups truly prepared to withstand the economic, social and emotional tsunami that threatens the globe.
Seasoned criminals think differently. They may think in reverse. They may think in rapid sequences. Or, they may be very cold and calculating. Seasoned, sophisticated criminals are masters of removing, not overcoming, obstacles that stand in the way of their objective. It is a mindset that someone that has not lived in that world cannot grasp.
I am a very fortunate person, in that I have had a very diverse set of experiences in my life. I have been fortunate to have had people close to me that are brilliant, even though by society’s standards they are outcasts and deemed to be something the world could do without. Knowledge and skill can be used for good or evil. The knowledge itself is irrelevant. How it is used is how the man should be measured. What is ironic today is that the very people who are seen as scoundrels are the very same people that may have the knowledge that leads many people through a sea of uncertainty.
I recall a professor I had in graduate school at the University of Alabama that was a profound figure in my life. He introduced me to the nature of pragmatic thinking. Understanding something does not imply moral endorsement of a phenomenon. I already had an innate mode of thinking that saw the world from a different paradigm. What he and my instructor did was allow me to embrace this not as an abnormality, a nuisance, or a moral failing. They showed me that what I have is a mechanism that can, and will, be used for good.
Use this time to your advantage. Isolation is a period of time that will allow you to meet one of the most interesting and charismatic people the world has ever known: You. It will allow you to witness the bad side of people, but this is a lesson that you will be able to pass along to those you care about and love. Knowledge itself is not power. Knowledge placed into noble action is power. Heroes from the most unlikely sources will be made over the foreseeable future. The first step along that path will be determined how they see the world.
Please, everyone stay safe. When this subsides…