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Discovering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was a life-changing event for me, and while I wouldn’t trade my career in BJJ for anything, thinking back on that time makes me a little sad, because it all started with an act of inexplicable violence. The year was 1993, and I was a young police officer on a metropolitan gang unit in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. I had never heard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I was definitely athletic. I wasn’t that long out of college, where I’d played football both as an inside and outside linebacker. I was also doing competitive weight lifting – going on later that year to break the police weight-lifting record for the state of Texas with a bench-press of 450 lbs.
A Fatal Stabbing
Being on the gang unit was risky business. In fact, for a period in 1989-1990, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex had the dubious distinction of having the nation’s highest per-capita homicide rate. One of my best friends on the unit was Big Darrell, also a defensive tactics instructor for our department. One afternoon, Big Darrell responded to an emergency dispatch – there had been a violent crime at an IHOP in a gritty corner of the Metroplex, where, tragically, a man had stabbed his own father.
When Big Darrell arrived at the scene, the stabbing suspect was still armed, and violently aggressive. As the suspect rushed him, knife in hand, Big Darrell left his .45 holstered. He chose instead to draw his ASP bat, a non-lethal extendable baton, central to the defensive tactics methods being taught at the time. Using the ASP bat, Big Darrell deftly flicked the knife out of the charging suspect’s raised hand.
But the man continued to charge, tackling Darrell & knocking him to the floor, where they grappled until the suspect managed to wrench the ASP bat out of Big Darrell’s grasp. Next, he began strangling him with it. On his back, with the violent suspect pinning and choking him, Big Darrell somehow managed to draw his .45 semi-automatic from its holster. He struggled to pull the weapon between him and the violent man whose life he had tried to protect, but who now left him no choice. He drew the trigger once, then twice. The pressure on Big Darrell’s throat lessened. He started to be able to breathe again, as the stabber drew in his last gasps and went lifeless.
Blood-stained and shaken, Big Darrell arose from the restaurant floor, as grateful restaurant patrons surrounded him & began thanking him.
Big Darrell’s role that afternoon was an act of consummate bravery – he placed his own life in jeopardy to protect everyone in that restaurant, valiantly putting himself at even greater risk by forgoing the use of deadly tactics until the suspect left him no other choice. He was a hero, and everyone on the unit and throughout the department praised him.
“I Lost Control of the Situation”
But one fateful night, I had come into the office late, hoping to take advantage of the evening quiet to get caught up on paperwork. The office was seemed empty, but as I approached my cubicle, I began to hear a quiet sobbing noise. Concerned, I looked around to find its source. I found Big Darrell crumpled at his desk, head in hands, struggling to hold back tears that would not cease.
I sat down. “What’s wrong?” I asked with concern, drawing a chair up to see if I could help my friend.
“Everyone keeps saying I’m a hero,” he said. “But I lost control of the situation – one that I thought I could control easily. But defensive tactics training doesn’t teach you what to do, when you’re down on the ground, and your own life is in the balance. I didn’t want to take that man’s life. But I had to – and I can’t get over that. I can’t get past it.”
A Fateful Promise
Not knowing what to say at first, but searching for the words, I tried to comfort my friend: “You didn’t fail. The tactics failed. The training failed. There has to be a better way, and I promise I’ll help you find one,” I tried to reassure him.
That promise to Big Darrell was to be a turning point in my life, though I didn’t know it at the time. It started me on a search, leading me down a path to some great adventures. I tell you more about that later…
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK: “How I Got My Start In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part II”