In the early seventies I watched a TV series called Kung Fu. It was about Kwai Chang Caine (played by the late David Carradine) a half-American/ half-Chinese man in the 1800s Wild West looking for his half brother. Caine was a Shaolin Priest, an expert at martial arts, but also a non-violent pacifist who only used his skills for self-defense, and then just in rare and extreme cases when all other options had been exhausted, which happened consistently at least twice per episode—hey, it was the only reason I watched the show. Caine talked in a soft voice with frequent nonsensical pauses that would have made Captain Kirk proud. I remember one episode where Caine meets an army colonel.
Colonel: And who are you?
Caine: I am a man…of peace.
Colonel: I also am a man of peace.
Caine: A man is known…by his…tools. A carpenter…has a hammer…and…a saw. A mason…has…a trowel…and bricks. Guns…and cannons…are not…tools…of peace.
And then he beat the snot out of the Colonel—purely in self-defense, I’m sure.
When I was a deputy sheriff I had a lot of tools. I wore a belt filled with things rivaling Batman’s utility belt–although they never gave me a cool Batarang. The tools on my belt were, starting from the right of my belt buckle: the body mike, the walkie-talkie with epaulette microphone, handgun and holster, ASP (collapsible baton), flashlight, handcuffs, pepper spray, rubber gloves holder, Taser and key ring holder. I might have missed something. Over the years things were added and subtracted by importance and by the room I had on my belt, which shrank if I lost weight–it didn’t happen very often.
I used the rubber gloves, the keys, handcuffs, walkie-talkie and the flashlight on a regular basis. The pepper spray I used once when I played ring-around-the-rosy in the dark at a public fish cleaning station with a drunk guy I was told had a knife. One time I broke out a window in a door with the baton so I could reach in and unlock it to gain access to a house I had a search warrant for—I figured it would be cheaper to replace the glass than to replace the door if I kicked it in. The Taser I used when I went to farm places with mean dogs. I never shocked the dog, but pulling off the cartridge and making it spark a few times was enough to make the dog think I was some kind of lightning demon he didn’t want to mess with. I shot the handgun twice a year to qualify. I never had to fire it on duty.
Most of the physical confrontations I had were wrestling matches. Only one time did I worry about losing one, but another officer showed up to assist, and eventually we got her cuffed–the wheelchair actually made it harder to get the handcuffs on her, and the nursing home people wouldn’t help out at all.
I’ve always felt my most important tools were my people skills and powers of observation. Usually you can tell if things are going to go bad if you see the signs. I wrote about it in my first book In The Sticks. I called it a Spidey sense, but it was just watching what the person is doing and saying. It usually gives you time to head off something before it starts, or call for backup if that’s what it takes. The times I missed it, I could look back and see where I should have known things were going to go bad.
Now I’m a writer and the tools have changed. The most important tool is my imagination. Next would be the use of the right words and stringing them together in a way that the reader knows what I’m trying to say. Last is marketing which I am still trying to perfect. But at least I’m not wrestling drunks anymore, because at heart…I’m a…man of…peace. Now excuse me while I go beat the snot out of someone.