Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One Tin Soldier Rides Away

"Billy Jack" is the story of a half-breed Indian, a (Vietnam) “war hero” who turned against the war, and abandoned society to live somewhere on the Indian reservation, studying ancient medicine ways, while defending the wild horses from poachers, and kids at the Freedom School from the violence of some of the townspeople.

Its naturalistic filming in parts, made it seem uncontrived and honest. It has some terrific martial arts action sequences, and a brilliantly poignant scene featuring co-star Dolores Taylor.

When policemen break the law, there is no law – just a struggle for survival.
-- Billy Jack

The film stars Tom Laughlin – who passed into legend this year at the age of 82, a stand-up guy all the way, and an ass-kicker to the very end.  He also wrote, produced, directed and made the coffee in what was clearly a labor of love and an expression of some deeply held beliefs (in that regard, reminiscent of John Wayne’s "The Alamo").

This film made a big impression on me. To start with, I’m a half-breed Indian, too. I was heavily into martial arts at that time, and I was also strongly against the war --- and I had something of a short fuse.  Like Billy Jack, for a time I tried to be a “pacifist” --- and like Billy, I found that it just wasn’t in me.

For young people today, "Billy Jack" provides a window into the late 60”s—early ‘70’s, and a chance to glimpse a small slice of the heart of the anti-war/hippie/generation. 
And the message of "Billy Jack" is just as vital today as it ever was:  that good people must band together against oppression and corruption, and that sometimes it is necessary and proper to use force against violence.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Songs of the Sword

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I first learned how to give lessons from Professor Warren Simkins, my voice teacher, back when I was a freshman in college.
As a voice major, I got together with him several times a week and each lesson followed the same format. First we’d chat a bit, the purpose of which was to get a read on where I was on that particular day, and to focus my attention and energy on the lesson. Then he’d take me through some “vocalizes,” exercises to limber and strengthen my chops.  After that we’d work on a song that was challenging, dissecting it into small sections, working on each section, then gradually reassembling the sections. That was followed by a song that I knew well, and sang well, something solidly under my command. We’d wrap up with a chat, re-capping what we’d done, going over practice suggestions, and some general chat about my life, gigs, girls – and, of course, the war.
Mr. Simkins had a real talent for knowing exactly when to push and when to go light. On days when I was “in good voice” he helped me stretch. On other days, like after a long week-end gig when my pipes needed some rest, we’d sing a little and talk a lot.
Keep in mind that the music I was doing in these voice lessons was quite different from the stuff I was singing to make my living. Clubs I played, I got very few requests for Handel or Tschaikovsky. And the only Martini requests involved an olive. But the work we did built up my voice, my breath-control, all kinds of things that were foundational to ANY kind of singing, and I found that that classical technique transferred quite readily to the folk/rock/jazz/blues genre of my gigs.  It helped quite a bit that Mr. Simkins, in addition to being a knock-out classical vocalist, had been a Big Band Crooner in his youth. So he understood that kind of performance dynamic.

I was also in a voice class that included non-music majors, and there were a couple of people in that class who couldn’t carry a tune in a suitcase. Sometimes I wondered why they signed up for the class. Their efforts were tense, tight, self-conscious, choking attempts to find a key, any key. Nevertheless, Mr. Simkins always found something praiseworthy in their performances --- not false, charity-praise, either, but things that I, myself, had neither the ear nor the heart to notice.  Years later, horses would teach me about this master teaching skill. It’s called “rewarding the try.”

Like all good teachers, Mr. Simkins was a great story-teller, with great stories to tell. There’s one in particular that has stayed with me and I think he wouldn’t mind my passing along. So I’ll share it with you, because I think it’s worth sharing...
Like so many other young men, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Mr. Simkins, in a fit of patriotic fervor, headed right down to the US Army recruiting office to sign up. He was hardcore, too. Volunteered to be a Ranger, I think it was. Some elite-type unit, anyway. Hoo-ah.
Turns out, for a musician, he was a talented killer. Excelled as a marksman, in hand-to-hand, demolition. Had a flare for both Italian and German languages (there’s that classical singing connection), and rose to be a squad leader. 
Like so many other young men, being yet unfamiliar with the reality of war, he was chomping at the bit, eager to get into action. Spent his free time cleaning and oiling his rifle, sharpening his bayonet, conjuring up heroic exploits in his imagination.
At long last, word came down that his unit was shipping out to fight the Nazis in Europe. He made preparations. Checked his gear. Said his good-byes. Wrote his will, just in case.  He was ready to rock and roll, and was looking forward to personally kicking Hitler’s ass.
Then, an odd thing happened. Something that he was never able to understand, not for the rest of his days.
The day before his outfit was  to ship out, Mr. Simkins received orders transferring him to the Chaplain Corps.
Out of the blue, no rhyme or reason. After spending big bucks to turn my man into a lean, green, nazi-killing machine destined to adorn recruiting posters everywhere, he gets side-lined just before the big game. It just didn’t make any sense, even for the Army.  And he was pissed. It had to be a snafu. He inquired, he protested, he begged, and he pleaded. But you know what they say in the Army? “Orders are orders, Pal.”
And so it came to pass that Mr. Simkins’ buddies went into battle without him. And when they hit the beach in their very first action, every single man in his platoon was killed. No survivors.  Not one.
Except him.
He spent he rest of the war dealing with the remains of the fallen, writing letters of condolence, delivering folded flags, medals and bad news to their families.
And, much as he tried, he was never able to ascertain where those transfer orders came from, who had originated them, or why.

For all the days that came after, I think Mr. Simkins felt that he had an unspoken tontine with his dead friends, and that he, having been inexplicably spared, now had a particular obligation to live a good life.
I believe he fulfilled it.

I'd like to do the same.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

"In Ferro Veritas"

The slogan “in ferro veritas” was coined by me, back in around 1978-1979.
I was reading a bit of Latin at that time, just for fun, which gives you some idea of the range and character of things I consider “fun.”
“Ferro” literally means “iron.”  It’s Latin slang for “sword” the same way we say “cold steel” or “hot lead” or “shootin’ irons.”
I frankensteined together two phrases I liked: “Omnis in ferro est salus” (Virgil) meaning “the sword is the equal protector of all," and the popularly known “in vino veritas,”  which means “never trust a man who won’t get drunk with you.” (my own translation).
“In ferro veritas” means “in the sword is truth,” or, more loosely translated, “studying the sword will smack you face-first into a lot of truths you’re not going to like.”
We refer to our unique training method as the IFV method, with IFV standing for guess what? (If you said “in ferro veritas,” move to the head of the class).  Indeed, our not-for-profit educational corporation is named IFV, Inc.

It seems that I came up with a motto that’s a pretty good one, because since I created it, a lot of other folks have plagiarized it, used it for themselves, and without so much as a by-your-leave.
According to Wikipedia:   
Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work
Now, if people dig the "in ferro veritas" concept, I’m cool with that, daddy-o. All I ask is that they properly give credit where credit is due.  Unfortunately, at least one so-called “fencing master” has plagiarized not only our motto, but has taken some parts of our unique practice method and claimed them as his own creation. That, I regret to say, makes that particular gentleman a liar and a thief, and if he had any integrity at all he would be deeply ashamed, apologize and make amends.
But, of course, he won’t. If he had integrity enough to apologize, he’d have had integrity enough not to plagiarize in the first place, wouldn't he?

Anyway, let word go forth that “in ferro veritas” belongs to us. We have used it in “business” since 1979. It is our intellectual property, our servicemark and our trademark, for which we reserve all rights. It is NOT in the public domain.
I’m glad if you like the slogan. But please, if you wish to use it, ask us for permission first, and give proper citation when you do.
Or just come up with something of your own.

Much appreciated.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

To Live by the Sword...

Lately, I've been working on a lot of computer-based stuff, dealing with the internet and so on. Not typical for me, and not my field of expertise by a long shot.
But there is one benefit: it reminds me anew of how much I cherish the sword.
Others, older and wiser than I, have already noted that the sword never jams, never has to be re-loaded and is always ready.
To that I would add that it never freezes, never crashes and never has to be re-booted, either.