Now that MMA has everyone’s attention…

I realized something this week: all this time I’ve been writing about Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in this blog, I’d assumed that everyone reading had knowledge of it.

I apologize. That was a silly assumption.

MMA is a sport relatively new in sports broadcasting, but it’s been growing in mainstream popularity, capturing fans beyond MMA participants and aficionados. This week, it was brought further out of obscurity when the term “Mixed Martial Arts” was dropped in a pejorative way before a broad audience.

It’s an awkward moment when someone who’s lamenting prejudice uses a specific example in a context that amounts to prejudice…

and when the speaker’s prejudice goes on display for the world to see, but much of that world doesn’t know any more about (MMA) than the speaker, so they aren’t capable of recognizing the hypocrisy of the comment.

On the bright side, MMA now has everyone’s attention, which offers a learning opportunity for those who wish to open their minds.

First, to be clear with my own terminology:

Definition of prejudice (Merriam-Webster)

  1. a (1) :  preconceived judgment or opinion (2) :  an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
  2. b :  an instance of such judgment or opinion
  3. c :  an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

The gist of the prejudice against Mixed Martial Arts, its participants, and its fans captures this sentiment: MMA is a barbaric/low-life sport that gratifies the plebeian tastes of bros, bullies, rednecks, and mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. 

Some general points I’d like to make:

1). History: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) finds its roots in the sport of Pankration in the ancient Greek Olympic Games.

From Wikipedia: Pankration (/pæn.ˈkrti.ɒn/ or /pæŋˈkrʃən/) (Greek: παγκράτιον) was a sporting event introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and was an empty-hand submission sport with scarcely any rules. The athletes used techniques from boxing and wrestling but also other types, such as kicking and holds, locks and chokes on the ground. The only things not acceptable were biting and gouging out the opponent’s eyes.[1] The term comes from the Greek παγκράτιον [paŋkrátion], literally meaning “all of power” from πᾶν (pan-) “all” and κράτος (kratos) “strength, might, power”.[2]

–This is a broad summation of MMA, though unlike Pankration, there are plenty of rules in MMA.

Admire these images of Pankration found on Greek pottery:

 

Pankration

Pankration

 

Pankration

Pankration

 

Pankration

Pankration

 

Pankration

Pankration

 

2a).The original and most well-known MMA promoter in the U.S. is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

2b). The UFC’s current champions include foreigners Amanda Nunes (Brazil), Johanna Jedrzejczyk (Poland), Conor McGregor (Ireland), Jose Aldo (Brazil), and Michael Bisping (England). The remaining five champions are American. Three of the American MMA champions are black.

Ergo, of the UFC’s 10 current champions, only two of them are white Americans.

3). MMA is an international sport rich with diversity. There’s no indication that racism is an issue in MMA such that it’s likely we’ll see a hashtag for FightCardSoWhite (as the hashtag OscarsSoWhite ripped through social media leading up to last year’s Oscars when well-deserving actors of color were snubbed in the award nominations, prompting some Hollywood stars and insiders to boycott their own union’s biggest award event.

(Hollywood is still working on living up to its own hype of being a paradigm of diversity and inclusiveness. But it will catch up to MMA soon enough.)

5). Mixed martial artists employ a variety of martial arts styles from various countries. Some of the arts comprising an MMA fighter’s repertoire are Muay Thai (Thailand), Brazilian Ju-Jitsu (Brazil/United States), Judo (Japan), Wrestling, Tae Kwan Do (Korea), Karate (Japan and China), and boxing. As the sport is evolving, we’re starting to see increasingly common usage of techniques from other martial arts, as well, such as Capoeira (Brazil), Kung Fu (China), Wu-Shu (China), and Kali (Philippines).

6). MMA is the only sport that has the word “arts” in it, and the term is there for a reason.

Classical martial arts involve body movement and training, discipline, and practice of techniques through choreographed sequences. In Karate, these choreographed sequences are called kata. They’re performed at tournaments as dancers perform in dance productions. The Shaolin Monks (China), for instance, perform their Shaolin Kung Fu techniques on prestigious stages all over the world. The art side of martial arts is akin to the art of dance.

Like dancers, martial artists spend countless hours practicing their techniques in order to master them. Command of their art demands mental as well as physical training.

In this video of a kata competition performance, the competitors display the artistry of Karate techniques, some of which are used by MMA fighters (punches, kicks, take-downs, ground-and-pound):

 

 

[Performance of Team Serbia in the WKF World Championships Belgrade 2010.]

5). The gender aspect: women joined the UFC’s ranks only 18 years into the organization’s inception. Before 2011, there were no women’s divisions in the UFC. (European female MMA fighters were competing in Europe before females could fight in the United States’ UFC.)

Ronda Rousey was the first female champion in the UFC. She not only paved the way for women in the UFC, but she arguably elevated the UFC and the entire sport of MMA to the status of household familiarity.

Since Ronda Rousey has been the most famous of the UFC champions, it’s a common mistake to judge her and then build on that judgment to make assumptions about the entire sport. Like her or not, Ronda is someone to respect for the success she’s achieved not only for herself, but for all of us. Ronda is a tough, ambitious woman who has overcome tremendous hardship in her life; she is inspirational in many ways.

Sidenote: Ronda got her very own Twitter insult from Donald Trump the year before the 2016 presidential election because she publicly declared that she would not vote for him. Ronda was an outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter from the beginning, so when she lost to Holly Holm, Trump was quick to tweet:

 

“Glad to see that @RondaRousey lost her championship fight last night. Was soundly beaten – not a nice person!”

 

The next women’s UFC bout I’m anticipating is Valentina Shevchenko vs. Julianna Pena on January 28. Shevchenko is from Kyrgyzstan and fights out of Peru. Pena is Venezuelan-American and fights out of Spokane, Washington, USA. This fight is the main event of the fight card – that means it’s the headliner fight – and the fighters are female. It’s not uncommon for female fights to headline a UFC fight card. How’s that for diversity in an organization that started out exclusively for men only 24 years ago?

I’m glad that MMA was brought into the spotlight via a controversial speech this week. Fall-out speaks volumes, and there’s always something to learn from it.

Gym Idiosyncrasies.

We all know that “humans are creatures of habit,” and we’re often reminded that in many cases, it’d be best if we weren’t. We’re advised to change up our patterns to stay safe. We’re warned that our routines will slowly kill us with stagnation if we don’t interject some spontaneity into our lives here and there. And everyone knows that operating on auto-pilot isn’t the ideal way to live life! Maybe so, but there’s comfort to be found in habits, routines and rituals. I’m quite attached to mine, though I know it’s true what they say… when we get set in our ways, others learn our patterns. Besides getting mired in the dreaded rut, we can become targets, if you’re looking from the dark side, or caricatures, if you’re looking with a sense of humor.

Speaking to that sense of humor side, Les Mills International posted an entry on their blog the other day, and a friend who teaches Les Mills (i.e. Body Combat) and other group fitness classes posted it on her FaceBook page. In the article, they list some of the DIFFERENT TYPES OF LES MILLS GROUP X GO-ERS.

The first type, the Front Row Diva, made me laugh right away. My “spot” in Body Combat is in the front row, and I heard that no one even stood in it when I was out sick, haha!

I would identify with the Front Row Diva if I liked to be directly in front of the instructor, or if I wanted to upstage the instructor, lead the class, or predict her moves. Or if dancing was applicable in the class, and if I could dance… or if my “dancing” was grinding. Okay, so the Front Row Diva isn’t really a good fit, at all.

But the front row part is very true. Since I use my own reflection as my opponent, I have to be able to see it, and the only way to do that is to be in front (any further back and I’d need glasses), and off to the side (so no one is in front of me).

Anyway, I thought the post was funny, and it got me thinking about my various other gym-related patterns and idiosyncrasies.

Here’s the break-down!

Clothing

–I usually don’t know what gym clothes I’m wearing until I change into them… and sometimes not even then. Sometimes, I don’t notice what I’m wearing at all unless someone (like Callaghan the other day) points it out.

Him: *sidling up to me in class* Hello, Ninja!

Me: haha I’m not a ninja.

Him: *points at my shirt*

Me: *looks down at shirt* Oh, yeah, I’m wearing my ninja shirt!

I honestly didn’t know.

This is because my method of packing my gym bag is in a huge hurry, randomly grabbing stuff out of the drawers. In the top drawer, the stack of shirts is on the left and the sports bras are on the right. My shorts are in the drawer beneath that one. I take one thing from each pile and throw it all into my gym bag without thinking about it. Auto-pilot can be a wonderful, time-saving thing, and it helps a lot that I have zero interest in gym attire. As long as my clothes are clean, I don’t care what they look like.

 

After working out last night. Random t-shirt: Raleigh/Durham Int'l Airport, North Carolina, 2008 (?). Shorts: ProSpirit Athletic Gear, no idea where or when I got them, they're SO OLD.

After working out last night.
Random t-shirt: Raleigh/Durham Int’l Airport, North Carolina, 2008 (?).
Shorts: ProSpirit Athletic Gear, no idea where or when I got them, they’re SO OLD.

 

–The only gym clothes I bother examining are my socks. I have black ones and gray ones. If they’re black, I check to make sure they’re the right black ones… I have two similar-but-different types, but I can only wear one kind while working out. The other ones are thinner and looser; I can feel my feet sliding around in my shoes when I wear them, and it’s annoying.

If they’re the gray socks, I check to make sure they’re a matching pair. They’re marked with the brand’s logo in different bright colors, and while I don’t care if my t-shirt and shorts are ancient with holes in them, I do care if my socks don’t match, even if no one can see the logo because it’s on the sole of the foot! (That’s why I’m calling these “idiosyncrasies.”)

Hmm… I just realized that I’m more concerned about my socks than anything else I wear to the gym.

Changing

I change into my gym clothes in the car on the way. Callaghan and I have it down to a science:

–He picks me up from work at 5:00pm. My packed gym bag is already in the car from when I’d tossed it in there that morning.

–I get in. He starts driving. My gym bag is between us, and I’ve got it open and I’ve pulled out my shorts, shoes and socks.

–We’re on Mill Avenue in the middle of downtown Tempe during rush hour and I’m slouched in the passenger seat without a seatbelt (I know, I know!) as I slide off my jeans and pull on my shorts. (If I ever die in a car accident with my pants around my ankles, that’s why. *knocks on wood*)

–Then I put on my shoes and socks.

–By the time my lower body is changed, we’re on Rio Salado either crossing Rural or waiting at the light at Rural. I say, “Okay! Tell me when it’s safe,” and just after we cross Rural, he says, “Go!” (Every time! How does that work? So far, no one has seen me half-naked in the car. *knocks on wood*)

–I quickly lean forward, rip off my top, undo my bra, shake it off, and shimmy into my sports bra. The whole operation takes less than 30 seconds. Down to a science.

–I straighten up and pull on my t-shirt. Then, finally, I put on my seatbelt.

–Work clothes and shoes get stuffed into the gym bag and tossed onto the back seat.

–I make sure the hair band around my wrist has two barrettes attached to it. I’ve taken to pulling my hair back once I’m in class.

–We get to the gym with enough time to run to the restroom before the class starts at 5:30pm.

FUN FACT: If it wasn’t for Callaghan driving us, I’d never make it on time.

Positioning in Class

–In Body Combat, I like to be in the front row and off-center, so I can see in the mirror, and there’s no one in front of me (see above).

–In any other group fitness situation, I like to be in the very back row, and again, off to the side. If you’ve ever been in a Boot Camp, Body Attack or H.I.I.T. class with me, you probably didn’t even see me, because I was hiding in the back corner.

FUN FACT: For some reason, the idea of being in the middle of the class (with people on all sides) makes me feel claustrophobic.

Pre-workout ritual

Come to think of it, I do have a little routine I do before class starts.

–Old habits: I do a few T’ai Chi “essentials” exercises, warming up my joints by rotating them. I go through the sequence of circular motions standing up, starting with my ankles and making my way up to my hips, shoulders and head, reversing the rotation half-way through. Then I put my hand on my head and gently pull it down toward my shoulder, first to one side, then the other. If I have time after that, I might put my hands on my knees and do some knee rotations.

Besides warming up my joints, this ritual also serves as a mini moving meditation… it’s how I center myself, get my energy (chi) flowing and my breathing coordinated with my movements, and transition my mind to training mode.

I finish with some torso twists that cause my arms to swing from side to side so the backs of my hands gently hit my kidneys, boosting the movement by lifting my heels in each direction. This is a qi gong exercise in the tradition of the Shaolin monks. I’ve heard it called “swaying arms,” or “swaying tree.”

This entire little pre-workout ritual takes anywhere from three to five minutes. (In a real T’ai Chi/Qi Gong class, it would be integrated with more exercises, and it would take a full hour.)

Post-workout ritual

–After class, I thank the instructor before I leave, because I’m truly grateful for her time. I know that most of the instructors have day jobs and family lives, and I appreciate those who have the dedication and stamina to get up there to motivate us at the end of the day! (I’m not sure that I could do it!)

–I’m drenched in sweat and totally gross, so in the car going home, I try to avoid leaning back against the seat. (I DO wear my seat belt, though.)

–When we get home, I remove what’s left of my make-up (just eyes, at that point!) if it’s during the week. (On Saturday mornings, I don’t wear make-up.) Then I usually make a protein shake before jumping in the shower.

The End. And now that you know all of my gym-related habits, I “should” change some of them, right?!

Have a great Tuesday, All!

I saw American Sniper. Here are my thoughts.

Somewhere around October-November, we found out about the upcoming film American Sniper. It was set to open on Christmas day. We were looking forward to it, and I liked the idea that two years in a row, the newly released movie we’d see on my December 27 birthday would feature Bradley Cooper.

As it turned out, the movie’s release date got pushed into January, so we didn’t get to see American Sniper on my birthday. Interestingly, though, the holiday movie we did go to see on December 27, Big Eyes, also featured an actor from last year’s birthday movie: Amy Adams! We saw American Hustle (Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) on my birthday in 2013, and Big Eyes (Amy Adams) on my birthday in 2014.

I like Bradley Cooper. It’s not a crush. I’m not obsessed with him, and I don’t race to the theatre just because he’s in a movie, but I am a fan. I’ve never seen him flounder in a role, and I’ve never seen a film of his I didn’t enjoy or appreciate in some way. Bradley Cooper in a movie usually means that I’m going to like the movie, and this is also true about Amy Adams and a few other actors (Jake Gyllanhaal comes immediately to mind); Callaghan and I are almost always on the same page, which is good. It’s more fun spending money on movie tickets if we strongly suspect that we’ll really like the movie.

So we saw Big Eyes on my birthday, and we enjoyed it, and we continued to anticipate the release of American Sniper. When the day arrived, we went to the theatre with our favorite action-flick movie-watching partner-in-crime, Jason, and I didn’t know what I was walking into. Somehow, I had the idea that the film was about a veteran who was using his lethal military skills for some grand operation in the civilian sector. I didn’t know that I was walking into a war movie. Neither did I know that the story was based on an autobiography/events that happened in the life of a real person.

And I’m glad. I’m glad that I didn’t know it was a war movie, because I generally avoid war movies. Had I known, I would have dropped American Sniper off my to-watch list, and I would have missed out on an incredible movie.

Yes, I know. I’m a Buddhist and a mostly-vegan vegetarian and I’m all about peace and compassion, but I highly appreciated American Sniper. This might seem incongruous, but it’s really not. For one thing, just on the artistic level, I thought it was a brilliant, finely-wrought film. I thought Bradley Cooper gave a tremendous, nuanced performance. I thought Clint Eastwood’s handling of the project was masterful.

Where can I even begin to try to explain my appreciation beyond that?

I guess I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not motivated by politics when it comes to art. I’m a registered Independent, anyway… my political views do tend to lean in a certain direction (if you know me well, you know what direction that is), but there’s a reason why I won’t join a particular party. Also, I generally stay away from the subject of politics on social media sites. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend to talk politics here today or any day. I get that it’s hard to avoid politics where this film is concerned, but I’m going to try to avoid the damn politics.

Then I should point out that I’m a combat veteran. I spent six months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield, Storm and Sabre, from the beginning of December 1990 to almost the end of May 1991. The ground war in January took all of two days, and the whole thing was rather anti-climactic after the airstrikes, but somehow I managed to get embroiled in the only real action American foot soldiers saw pushing through Iraq. I ran Commo (wire, radios) in a segment of a ground ambulance unit, and our convoy was comprised of mostly medics from my Garrison unit in Germany, along with some infantrymen, American National Guardsmen and women, and a few British soldiers. We were ambushed, and it was intense, and I brought that personal history with me going into the movie theatre to see American Sniper, not knowing, as I’d said, that it was going to be a war movie.

Now, about that Buddhist thing, since I know that it’s confusing to many people. I’ve been Buddhist all of my life, and I’ve been a martial/fighting artist for more than half of my life, and no, contrary to the popular opinion of our times, this does not create a contradiction. Buddhism and the fighting arts are not mutually exclusive. If you can understand this, then my admiration of American Sniper shouldn’t seem contradictory, either.

Rather than going into a tedious academic tangent on the principles of eastern philosophy, including the meaning of the yin-yang symbol, I’m asking that you hang with me for a minute here!

Buddhist monks in the Shaolin temple of ancient China were resourceful and inventive. They developed seitan, a popular protein-rich meat substitute made of wheat gluten, so they could avoid eating animals. They also developed Shaolin Kung Fu, a martial art that enabled them to kill with their bare hands and laid the groundwork for basically all eastern martial arts thereafter. What’s more, the full spectrum of the Shaolin martial arts system includes fighting with weapons. The “Buddhist warrior” is actually a thing, and it always has been. I’m not saying that ALL Buddhists are warriors. I’m just saying that warriors in the ranks of Buddhists have existed for ages, at least as long as there have been temples to protect. Long before Bruce Lee, there were the Shaolin Buddhist soldier monks.

Hard to believe that there’s a history of martial arts bad-assery in Buddhism, right?

Enough about me and my background. Returning to American Sniper, I want to talk about the “problem” of the veracity of (every detail of) Chris Kyle’s story. He apparently made some claims in his book that aren’t true. In my opinion, just from my perspective as a literature major, this is normal. Biography/autobiography/memoir/creative non-fiction and, loosely, historical fiction all rely on facts and factual events for the backbone of the stories within, but there’s usually good reason and/or artistic justification for alteration or invention in some places, and authors take this kind of creative liberty all the time.

Take, for example, a staple of children’s literature well-known and loved by most Americans. The Nellie Olson character in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books didn’t actually exist… she was an amalgamation of two real-life figures from her childhood. Because Laura Ingalls Wilder also altered the chronology of her family’s travels (reportedly for the sake of simplicity), she took two classmates from two of her schools in two different geographical locations and blended them together to create the one insufferable character we know as “Nellie Olson.” (The real Nellie Olson was one of the two classmates Laura Ingalls Wilder used to create the fictitious one.)

This is a well-documented fact, and yet I’ve never heard anyone say that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories are meaningless because she “made up” the character or “lied” about the trajectory of her family’s pioneering path, nor have I heard of anyone calling her out on any of the other half-truths, embellishments or omissions that resulted for artistic purposes. I never heard anyone say that because of all this, Laura Ingalls Wilder is not to be trusted or believed, and that the attention paid to her stories is undeserved. I never heard anyone say that the worth of other art based on the books she co-wrote about her life – namely, the world-famous Little House on the Prairie television series – was invalidated by her “lies.” I never heard anyone complain that the T.V. show was “mendacious” because Laura Ingalls Wilder changed some things, omitted things, and flat-out made other stuff up.

We know that she did these things, but we still accept her work as autobiographical. That which wasn’t real didn’t cancel out all that was real. Her story is still her story, and Chris Kyle’s story is still Chris Kyle’s story, and just because Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tone was demure and so many people dig stories about pioneer life more than they dig stories about soldiering life doesn’t mean that by majority opinion, we can have a double standard. If we’re going to call Chris Kyle a liar, then we’re going to have to call Laura Ingalls Wilder a liar for the exact same reasons, and we don’t want to do that, now, do we?

And while we’re on the subject, let’s think for a moment of how Laura Ingalls Wilder “glorified” and “romanticized” how her Pa decided to drag the family into Indian Territory and knowingly illegally squat on the Native Americans’ land, and how Laura Ingalls Wilder plainly recounted her parents’ racist attitudes and sentiments regarding the “savages” (sound familiar?) – have you ever heard anyone lambasting her for this dubious aspect of their “courageous” pioneer life? Neither have I. Needless to say, the storylines in the television series’ episodes conveniently omit any mention or reference to this part of the Ingalls’ “adventures.” Most everyone still loves the show.

But people are sure enjoying harping on Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper for “glorifying” and “romanticizing” the darker sides of Chris Kyle and his story.

Finally, I want to say that it’s interesting how the people shouting the loudest about how Chris Kyle was a lying psychopath (and no hero at all) are the ones who never spent a day in his or any other soldier’s boots. Now, I didn’t know Chris Kyle. I didn’t know him before, during or after his service, nor am I a psychiatrist. For all I know, he could have been a psychopath or a sociopath or whatever other -path you want to call him… but I don’t care. I don’t care if Chris Kyle was the kind of guy who’d help an old lady cross the street, or the kind of guy who’d push an old lady off a cliff. Because what I do know is that combat military training and circumstances change you in ways that civilians can’t even begin to fathom. What you were before is rendered nearly irrelevant. Even emerging from regular old Army basic training (Chris Kyle underwent Navy S.E.A.L. training, which is much more intense), you’re different than you were before you went in.

In basic training, you’re broken down from the inside out, with the whole point being to re-build you into something you probably weren’t before you went in: a killing machine that can be set into action when the circumstances call for it. The mental and physical conditioning you undergo in order to serve in combat is complete. I’m talking about the average person here. Now imagine that instead of being an average person, you were already an expert shot accustomed to taking lives (as a hunter)… and imagine, too, that your military occupational specialty is killing.

Someone’s got to do it, guys. The military is an establishment in which there’s a need for many roles, just like in civilian society, and while all soldiers are required to be conditioned in the basics, everyone has to choose an occupational specialty. Some soldiers are cooks. Others are band musicians. Others work in supply. There are the tankers, the ammo soldiers, the administration office-working soldiers, the morgue soldiers and the medics and the mechanics and the military cops and the JAG (legal) corps and the signal corps, the soldiers responsible for ensuring communications in the field (what I did – my 31K occupational title was “Combat Signaler.”) And so on, and so forth… and then you have the soldiers whose specialty is killing. These are the infantry, the “grunts.”

Regardless of your occupational specialty, though, all soldiers function the same way in combat zones, and again, to reiterate, this is what basic training is for. When thrown into a combat situation, the conditioning deep inside you surfaces, enabling you to automatically act according to the situation, and I’m sorry, but combat situations don’t usually involve making butter, choosing fabric for dresses, or embroidering. Pa Ingalls is not going to bust out his fiddle at the end of the day and make everyone laugh merrily as they sing along to his folksy songs.

When I was 18, I went to basic training and came out different than I was before, because that is what basic training is designed to do. Not only are you different, but you’re also no longer your own person. You become government property, calibrated to respond and operate on a situational basis. The minute you raise your hand and take that oath, the Constitution you’re charged to protect no longer even applies to you. You opt out of those rights in order to protect them. It’s the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for you!

A day or two before Christmas 1990, we were out there in the vast, cold and empty Saudi Arabian desert when we were told that Sadam Hussein had threatened an attack as a “Christmas present” for the Americans lying in wait, meaning, us. We went into high alert for an indefinite period of time. I remember my 22nd birthday very well. I spent the entire day in a foxhole in the biting cold, suited up in MOPP 4 (head to toe chemical protection gear) with a full bandolier of ammo strapped around my chest and my M-16 at the ready, and again, I came out different than I was before, because that’s what happens when you spend hours on end with every cell and nerve of your being waiting to either kill or get killed. Just being in that situation day after day changes you. Even if “nothing happens,” you can’t ever be the same again.

A few weeks later, the ground war started, and we switched gear from alert to action. We convoyed out of Saudi Arabia to follow the front line through Iraq, destination Kuwait. We were a ground ambulance convoy in our Cut-V’s and Hum-V’s, and we saw and dealt with everything you’d expect to encounter on a battlefield. Then we were ambushed. There were Iraqi snipers. There were detonating landmines. There were casualties. Afterward, there were smoke grenades and medevac helicopters. I’m not going to go into the details of what I did and saw, but you can bet that again, I was a different person by the end of it.

Now, take my modest little combat experience and quadruple it and give it another hefty boost for increased severity. Chris Kyle couldn’t possibly have ended up being the same person he’d been before any of his four tours of combat duty, whatever that may have been. He killed people, as we were all prepared to do, as Navy S.E.A.L.S. were expected to do, and I would venture to guess that he saved many more people than he killed. Whether I “agreed” with the Iraq War or not, I’m grateful to Chris Kyle for his service, and for the service of all men and women in uniform in all the branches of the Armed Forces, regardless of the conflict or the reason for it or behind it, or the duration or severity of it, or the number of times they deployed, or my opinion of it or your opinion of it or anyone’s opinion of it, or anything else.

I’d like to think that if I never lived the experience of being broken down and built back up to human war-machine specs, if I never set foot in a combat zone, if I never mentally prepared to suffer and die under chemical attack or by gunfire or other ordnance, if I never swallowed 12 mysterious pills a day “in case of chemical attack”… if I never lived a day of my life serving my country… I would recognize that I’m not in a position to judge Chris Kyle.

Like him or not, Chris Kyle was a hero. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who voluntarily raises their hand and swears away their own constitutional rights in order to protect yours is a hero, whatever else they may be, and whether they go to war or not. To try to posthumously shame Chris Kyle for being the lying asshole he maybe was is to miss the point of American Sniper. Deriding Eastwood and Cooper for taking part in “glorifying” anything is also an exercise in missing the point.

Aside from all of this, what’s really important here, of course, is that we found American Sniper to be a great piece of cinematic art in and of itself. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper did a damn fine job, along with everyone else who put their energies into the making of the film. I’m saying this, and I don’t even like war movies!

So, American Sniper? We recommend it. It’s not easy to watch, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it “enjoyable,” but it’s an amazing film.

On that (hopefully cheerier) note, Happy Friday, All!

(Here are some photos I took in the war):

 

The first Hum-V ambulances....

The first Hum-V ambulances….

 

Random tank in Iraq

Random tank in Iraq

 

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

 

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

 

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

 

Thanks for scanning them, Callaghan!