Editor’s Note: This interview was originally intended to focus on the new Marine Corps martial arts training program. Although the program is discussed, the interview evolved into more, becoming one of those surprise joys that occasionally result from open-ended, unscripted conversations with interesting people. This week, that person is Jack Hoban, who was interviewed by WorldNetDaily’s talk-radio host Geoff Metcalf. Hoban is a former active-duty U.S. Marine Corps captain and longtime practitioner of martial arts. A Shidoshi senior instructor in the Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu system under Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi in Japan, he is also the third non-Japanese person in the world to become fully qualified as a senior Bujinkan instructor by passing the fifth-degree black belt test in 1985. He received a 10th Dan in May of 1996, and is currently the highest ranked Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu practitioner in the United States.
Hoban is a student of the late Robert L. Humphrey, noted conflict resolution specialist and author of “Values For A New Millennium.” Hoban’s “Living Values Program” is inspired in great degree from Professor Humphrey’s “Life Value” theory. Jack has been an important contributor to the development of the new U.S. Marine Corps martial arts program, which is now a mandatory requirement corps-wide for all Marines, both enlisted personnel and officers.
Metcalf’s daily streaming radio show can be heard on TalkNetDaily weekdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Q: This new Marine Corps martial arts training program – whose idea was it originally? Did Gen. Jones come up with this?
A: Back in the mid ’90s, I was contacted along with a number of other active-duty Marines and former active-duty Marines to come to Quantico for a Close Quarter Combat Review Board. As you know, almost all the armed services have some kind of hand-to-hand combat in the beginning stages. The Marine Corps had the same thing – at least we had the manual. I remember being a series commander in San Diego, where we trained the recruits back in late ’70s, early ’80s. There was a little bit of that – stabbing with rubber knives and throwing people to the ground. Although there wasn’t a lot of training, there was a manual for it. The job of the CCRB (Close Combat Review Board) was to come and review that manual on a periodic basis to see if everything still made sense. So a number of us went down to Quantico, and we went through the manual and made our recommendations as to improvements and how to implement it and how to do the training. But it was kind of an exercise in that none of us believed, based on our experiences, that a lot of that stuff was going to be taught consistently.
As you pointed out, the new commandant, Gen. Jones, he changed everything. And this was just a couple of years ago. He came in and said, “Every single Marine is going to get access to ‘real’ hand-to-hand and close-quarter combat training.” It includes weapons, … firearms, bayonets and knives and all kinds of weapons of opportunity. Every Marine is going to have that, and we are going to really push it in the corps.” I was then asked back again, by the new folks who were then put in charge, to see if I could contribute a little bit to making sure that what we had started on paper several years ago would really start to get into the Marine Corps and out into the fleet.
Q: This 27-and-a-half hours of instruction in the first block – they show them a whole bunch of blocks and strikes and so forth, but what about achieving any level of proficiency? I remember in Ranger School, every day we’d get in the big sawdust pit and throw each other around, but there wasn’t any real task/condition/standard evaluation of proficiency in each one of the techniques.
A: It’s a little different now. And I want to preface this by saying that my contribution to the program is not really that large in terms of that kind of thing.
Q: What kind of thing did they want from you?
A: I was brought in to talk more about the values portion of it. There’s still a lot of throwing each other around on the ground and in sawdust pits, but there’s a ranking system now. There is a belt system now. So in order to get that first level of proficiency and to have it entered into your service record and to have the belt (it’s a tan belt) you have to be able to demonstrate proficiency. It’s not just a few hours of people throwing each other around.
Q: So there is a skills test that goes along with the training?
A: Yes, there’s a skills test that goes along with each one of the ranks.
Q: Arguably one of the most challenging things in synthesizing something like this is there are so many different disciplines. What’s better? Is this better? Or is that better? My martial arts experience started over 30 years ago, and I bounced around from one discipline to another and from style to style until finally I found an art that actually found me. What is included in the new Marine program? How much boxing? How much Judo? What styles are they using?
A: That’s a really interesting question, and I’ve got to tell you they are using all kinds of stuff.
Q: If it works, it’s good!
A: Yes, if it works, it’s good. Many of us had our input, but the bottom line is the stuff that is being taught is being taught under the leadership of two specific people who are active-duty Marines. No. 1 is Lt. Col. George Bristol, and the other one is Master Gunnery Sgt. Cardo Urso in Quantico right now. Some of us came from Okinawan styles or boxing or wrestling or street fighting or whatever. We all put our two cents in, and a lot of those techniques are a synthesis of all the ideas. But those are the two guys who are taking the stuff on paper, along with their instructors in Quantico, and making sure it gets taught. So the flavor of it is really being generated by those two guys and their staff.
Q: One thing we have discussed frequently on my radio program with guys like Gen. Krulak and Col. Dave Hackworth is the importance of leadership. I am pleased and impressed to read that with this new Marine martial arts program, it’s not just for the new kids on the block going through boot camp. This is a Marine Corps-wide thing – everyone from the generals on down are going to be required to demonstrate proficiency, right?
A: That’s right! And that’s new. That’s real new. It’s never been done that way before.
Q: That is so way cool! When I went through the Army Infantry Officer Advanced Course, the post commander was Maj. Gen. Willard Latham. He was generally reviled for this P.T. thing that he took from his bad experience in Korea. He required everyone – regardless of rank, race, creed, sex, political affiliation or what your job was – everybody had to complete a 25-mile road march and a five-mile run in fixed times. That policy followed him to every command he had. We probably lowered the mean elevation of Columbus, Ga., with all the ground pounding. But it was for everybody. Too often folks come with some cool idea and “well, that’s for the grunts, not for us.”
A: The Marine has a tradition, and that is that every Marine, regardless of MOS (military occupation specialty) is a rifleman. So every Marine at the first primary levels of training is taught to be a rifleman. And it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be a pilot, a cook or grunt or whatever. Now, along with being a Marine rifleman, you’re going to be a martial artist, too.
Q: Another cool element is that this program doesn’t end with that initial 27-and-a-half hours of instruction, does it?
A: No. There is a whole series of levels, and what I think is very interesting is not only is it a whole series of levels in terms of a bunch of techniques, but it also corresponds to time in the corps, time in grade and your ranks.
Q: It’s one thing to just kick ass and take names, but one thing that really impressed me about this program – and frankly, why I hope it could be embraced by other branches – is the inclusion of not just the combat skills but teamwork, tactical judgment, mental discipline and character. In addition to being a big mucky muck in the Bujinkan, you also had the luxury of being exposed to and mentored by Dr. Robert Humphrey.
A: That’s right.
Q: Unfortunately, most people don’t know much about Dr. Humphrey, except to hear me quote “The Warrior Creed” periodically. How is that incorporated into the new Marine Corps martial arts program, or is it?
A: First of all, I have to say Dr. Humphrey was a mentor of mine, a father figure. I met him when I was a Marine captain in San Diego in the early ’80s.
Q: You thought he was a “woo-woo wacko” initially.
A: A little. I was taking a master’s degree program. I had just gotten off the drill field, so my hours went from like 5 o’clock in the morning to 9 o’clock at night to a regular 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. type of a day job, almost. So I decided to get a master’s degree at night. It was in business administration, because I had planned to get out and maybe go to New York City and work on Wall Street or something. But one of the courses that I had to take was a course called “Cross-Cultural Relations in Business.” It was a required course.
Q: Too bad it’s not a required course for our state department.
A: Well, at that time, I was a little bit worried if it was going to be a meaningful course. Let’s face it, everybody sitting around trying to figure out whether they should be bowing to Japanese and all these kinds of tangential types of things. This is what passed for cross-cultural relations in business in those days. Do you bow? Do you shake their hand?
Q: Who do you look in the eyes? Can you touch their head?
A: Yeah, this type of thing. So I was a little bit of a hostile audience, because I’d read a bunch of that stuff. And having lived and worked overseas, I didn’t think a lot of those courses were really hitting the mark. But this guy, he was really different. He really looked like the grandfatherly scholarly type. He had a very interesting way about him of drawing people out.
Q: Did you know he was an Iwo Jima platoon leader when you first entered his class?
A: He waited. It was a couple of days, a couple of classes into it, and he would let things slip – very, very self-effacing; very, very humble man for a guy who had a law degree from Harvard and taught at the Fletcher School and MIT and done significant overseas work and, as you said, an Iwo Jima veteran. He was a Marine officer on Iwo Jima. He started to tell these stories about his life working overseas, and the Iwo Jima stories got to me, obviously. He had a very singular way of looking at the world.
Q: How so?
A: Very values-based, respect-based, and this was way before “respect” became kind of the buzzwords of human relations. We’re talking in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, he was using the “respect” word as a cross-cultural conflict resolution tool. And he was very, very successful, but it was all low-profile Cold War stuff.
Q: So how do you incorporate that into this new Marine kick-ass-and-take-names program?
A: I’ve got to tell you the story of “The Warrior Creed.” I know many of your readers/listeners have heard “The Warrior Creed,” but you may not have heard the story of how it was passed to me. It wasn’t passed to me on a website or on a business card like we do it now. It was passed to me over the course of 16 years.
Q: Please share it with our readers.
A: The first part of “The Warrior Creed” says, “Everywhere I go, everybody is a little bit safer because I’m there.” When I first met Dr. Humphrey, I was about 25 years old, I was a Marine officer and martial artist, and I guess I had “the look” – you know, the kind of Marine Corps “look.” I would walk around …
Q: You’d strut around.
A: … strut around a little bit, and Dr. Humphrey would say, “Jack, you know it’s kind of interesting about you, but did you know that people really feel a little uncomfortable around you?” When I heard that, I was a little proud of that.
Q: You were trying to be “bad!”
A: Yeah. You wanted to be “bad.” Heck, you’re a Marine officer, and you want people to think you’re “bad.” But Dr. Humphrey, in a real gentle way, said, “You know, that really may not be the best way to go for a couple of reasons. One, not everybody is going to warm up to you, and people you want to meet or be friends with, they may be put off by that. And secondly, you may be intimidating people to the point where they could get so afraid of you they could use a weapon against you. You know what I mean? You start trouble that way sometimes.” And I thought of the times I had gone in to have a beer somewhere and looked around the bar, and the first thing I’d do was mentally pick off everybody in there and make they sure they knew they’d better not mess with me.
Q: There was a period in my life – about two years during my first Fort Benning tour – where trouble always found me.
A: It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Q: It was right after that Airborne Ranger stuff.
Q: I could walk into a bar, and although I wasn’t intentionally looking for it, trouble always found me.
A: Yes, and I think I was in the space too. And Dr. Humphrey recognized it right away. He said, “Listen, when you go into these places, instead of looking around like you want to kick everybody’s butt, I want you to try this as an experiment …” And he would always do that. He never told me what to do. He’d say, “Try this and tell me how it works.” He said, “Tonight, when you go out, walk in there, look around and say to yourself, ‘Everybody in this place is a little safer because I’m here.'”
A: So, there I was down in Oceanside in one of those bars, and I look around (it was kind of a rough place, to tell the truth), and I said to myself, “Everybody in this place is a little bit safer because I’m here.” I looked around, and of course everybody ignored me. But it was funny, I had to admit it felt better. Something about that just felt better. I don’t know if anybody felt better because I was there, but I felt better. And it started to remind me of why I became a Marine in the first place.
Q: I’ll bite. Why did you become a Marine?
A: I became a Marine because I thought Marines were the ones that were the best at protecting the country. Not the best at going out and killing people, but the best defenders of our nation. And, really, it was a more positive way of looking at the world.
Q: So how do you segue from that to, “Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend.”
A: “Everyone is safer because you’re there” was Dr. Humphrey’s way of switching my mind – the mindset I had that I had to be “bad” to you to be good. The more I thought about it, and the more I lived it, he was right. It’s a better life.
Q: You become a solution, not a problem.
A: I’m a solution, not a problem. And anybody that needs a friend has one. That’s a real easy way to put it into practice. Many of us have been in those situations – some of them very minor or perhaps just social – where there is someone hanging out just by themselves, they have no one to talk to, or they feel threatened by the situation, and you go over there and stand next to them. It makes a huge difference not only to them, but to you. When the U.S. military, the U.S. Marines, goes someplace, we want them – the people – to know they are a little bit safer. I’m talking about the local people, not the people we are fighting. They have a friend in America, and that the United States Marines are there to protect them as well as chase down the bad guys.
Q: You imply “The Warrior Creed” was really more a process than an event.
A: It was a process, because even just those first two elements – it’s really easy to be a warrior for a few minutes when you walk into a bar or a subway, but the people who really know whether you’re living it or not are the folks that you’re living at home with 24 hours a day.
Q: And that brings us to the last piece.
A: Yes. It happened about 16 years later. Dr. Humphrey was at my house. We were doing a seminar talking about “The Warrior Creed” and some of the hand-to-hand combat skills that we use as the other component of that physical, moral lesson. I was still working my day job in north Jersey. It was in March. It was sleeting. Traffic was bad. I had had a bad day. I couldn’t wait to get home, and it took me about two-and-a-half hours to get home in the sleet. I got out of my car and walked up to my front door and just about had smoke coming out of my ears. I opened the door and walked in, and you have to imagine this scene. Dr. Humphrey was sitting on the couch in the living room with my two kids crawling all over him laughing and screaming. My wife was in the kitchen cooking and singing. And I’m standing there after having had this horrific day, and for some reason, the whole scene just pissed me off. In a very immature way, I felt, “I’m glad everyone else is having such a great day. I had a miserable day.” I remember standing there with that strange torn feeling, and Dr. Humphrey looked up at me from the couch and saw the look on my face, and he said, “Get out!”
Q: Get out of your own home?
A: I said, “Wait a minute, this is my house.” He said, “GET OUT!” So I got out. I walked out the door, and I remember standing on the porch in the sleet. He came out and he looked at me, sternly at first, and then kindly said, “Jack, do you know what was going on in this house before you walked in the door? Everybody was sitting here for the last hour and a half in joyous anticipation of you coming home. Couldn’t wait for you to get home, because we were all going to have dinner and be together and enjoy the evening. And you walked in looking like that. Don’t do that. You broke everybody’s heart in that house doing that. If you have to sit in that car for 45 minutes, don’t walk in the house ever again looking like that.” Of course, I was shamed. And that’s where the last component of “The Warrior Creed” came from. He said, “If you’re going to be a warrior, these are the people that you need to protect – especially their feelings and their hearts.”
Q: When was “The Warrior Creed” crystallized? When was it actually written down?
A: Actually, I wrote it down. It was crystallized that night. That was the third component. Dr. Humphrey talked about it and the process of it, and after that night, he said, “Yeah, I agree with those three things.” So I said, “I’m going to write it down and call it ‘The Warrior Creed’ and share it with my students.” I may have written it down and put it in order, but Dr. Humphrey was saying those things to me over the course of the 16 to 17 years that I knew him.
Q: So how do you incorporate the living-values portion? Dr. Humphrey had worked with the Marine Corps before in a variety of capacities.
A: Oh yeah. Dr. Humphrey was a Marine on Iwo Jima, and he worked for the Marine Corps, including Gen. Krulak on a moral/physical program he had that was based on his life-values theory and a boxing related type of hand-to-hand combat training called “Strike.”
Q: You and I have never yet met face to face, but you said something once upon a time that struck me. You said, “Even though we train for years, after that point, we never really progress. Style, like culture is not important in matters of life and death.” How do you take that, and when you are teaching something in this Marine Corps martial arts program – that has to be structured – how do you incorporate that concept of formlessness into the Marine Corps structure? Or how do Bristol and Urso do it?
A: George Bristol and I, I think, are very much in confluence in those thinkings. The object of the close-combat training is to kill the enemy, obviously, and to at the same time try to protect your fellow Marines. We start out with the form. But what Lt. Col. Bristol has done is he has a lot of the form being taught, all these different techniques and things, and then he does the exercises.
Q: Give us an example.
A: For example, we had an exercise the last time I was in Quantico where Marines that were going through the exercise, they were in full combat gear. They ran about three miles. As they got to the end of the three-mile course through the woods, they went through a fog of pepper spray to get the “fog of battle,” so it was difficult for them to see. Then they went through a station where they were attacked by seven or eight instructors in a row, all armed with pugil sticks and training knives and tackled and thrown to the ground and things like that. Believe me, there was no pure technique going on there. It was guts and body lessons and body memory learned from the techniques. At that point, it was just trying to be aggressive and trying to survive. It didn’t look like your marital arts school type of techniques at all. And that’s how the real training progresses toward the end, when people are really getting to the point where they are trying to get their belts and their credentialing.
Q: Does the formal 27-and-a-half hours of instruction include elements like managing space and distance?
A: I assume you are referring to some of the stuff we are doing in the Bujinkan. I need to be real clear here with you, Geoff. There were a lot of people besides me that were involved in creating the curriculum – the physical curriculum. The thing that I do when I go down there to teach, besides putting in my two cents on how the physical training is going, what I usually do is I teach the courses on “The Warrior Creed” and ethics. That’s the main reason I’m involved in the program. There are plenty of guys teaching how to stab and choke people.
Q: Jack, before I ever met Dale Seago or personally trained with the Bujinkan, I kinda stumbled across the crucial importance of managing space and distance. So what I’m asking is are those lessons are incorporated into the Marine Corps program?
A: I don’t know how they approach that. I know that in my training, it is approached kind of as we’re training – we’re talking about it, we’re using it and doing it. I can’t remember how they talk about it in the manual. I mean, the manual is four inches thick.
Q: I have always had a problem with the kata queens in martial arts, where everything is a choreographed dance, because it’s not real.
A: Let me give you an example of an exercise that we were using that speaks to this. You may know of a gentleman named Hunter Armstrong.
A: He’s a very accomplished martial-arts historian, practitioner and teacher. And he’s a friend of George Bristol and mine. He has been involved in trying to work with the program on some of the more advanced issues, particularly the ones you are talking about – closing with the enemy. He had an exercise that was just on that – on closing, on the distance, on the angle, on getting just the right perspective, getting the weapon into the target, these kinds of technical details. Which, beyond technical, they really are kind of the spiritual and emotional aspects of it, too. All these things kind of get mixed up into an amalgam. We call it “sanshin” – the heart, the body and the mind. So I don’t know how they are approaching this in the lower levels or in the manuals, but in the training, yup, we’re working on it. Particularly the contributions of Chip Armstrong have been significant in that regard.
Q: What is the “Warrior Case Studies” program?
A: The “Warrior Case Studies” program is really one of the things we are trying to do to get some emotional impact into the training. Martial-arts training, like any other kind of training, gets pretty technical and boring. It sounds exciting to do marital-arts training or close-combat training in the Marine Corps, but when you’re sitting there with a bunch of your peers for four hours throwing each other on the ground, it gets a little bit dry and a little bit boring eventually, not to mention it hurts. So part of the mix is to tell the stories – stories about great warriors and stories about great warrior experiences.
A: Yes. Values are taught metaphorically. They are taught in literature, in stories. All the great literature has a lesson in it, and it makes its impact by the emotions. So we’re looking for the case studies with high emotional impact that bring out the warrior spirit in the men. Another thing that we’re doing that I think is very unique and I think is very important is in a discussion we had, there was some concern that you teach a young Marine all these very deadly skills and you give him a couple of stories about warrior spirit or something like that, but try to give a philosophical lesson that is equal in impact to these really high-impact physical lessons, sometimes you don’t end up with what you want. Sometimes you end up not with a warrior, but with a guy who knows how to kick butt but maybe is not mature enough to use it properly. We say a Marine with these skills in a foreign country that doesn’t utilize them properly is an international incident waiting to happen.
Q: Please tell Dr. Humphrey’s pig story.
A: All right. The hunting story. Dr. Humphrey was in Turkey in the ’50s. There was a lot of trouble between the Americans, who were manning the missile base there, and the local folks. The problem was the Americans were being asked to leave. We couldn’t leave – it was a strategic missile base there. We couldn’t just up and leave. And the Americans, for their part, didn’t have any respect for the locals. They thought they were dirty and stupid, their habits were weird and they were ignorant and smelly and downright subhuman, some of them. Dr. Humphrey was in charge of trying to square that away, and he was having no luck at all. He did the usual stuff with people trying to eat each other’s food and speak each other’s language, but he was having no luck. People weren’t interested. They really did dislike each other.
One day, he had been asked by some of the folks in the embassy if he wanted to go hunting. There was good boar hunting in that part of Asia Minor at that time. So he got in the back of a truck with a bunch of others and went out to one of the local villages. He had heard you could “rent” some of the locals for a couple of bucks, and they’d be happy to go out and beat the bush for you all day so you could go boar hunting. The situation was pretty grim in the countryside. You’re talking about people living in mud huts with no running water, no electricity. Sure enough, the talk starts in the truck. One American would say, “How can these people live like this? They’re living like animals.” And another would say, “Yeah, life is cheap out here in the back country. They really don’t feel the same way we do.” Another would say, “I couldn’t live like this. I’d rather be dead. They may as well be dead. They live like animals.” And Humphrey said, “Here we go, the same talk – the negative talk by these Americans.”
Q: But that day, there was a sergeant in that truck.
A: Oh, yeah. He hadn’t said a word up to that point. But he spoke up when one of those kids in the truck said, “These people have nothing to live for. They may as well be dead.” This sergeant turned to that kid and said, “You think these people have nothing to live for? I want you to take my knife and jump off the back of this truck and go try to kill one of them.” There was silence in the truck. That was the first thing Humphrey had heard that shut up the negative talk about these people. So Humphrey pin-holed the sergeant and said, “What was that all about?” And the sergeant said, “I’m tired of listening to us Americans talk about these people like that. I don’t know either why they seem to love their lives so much, but these people love their lives and the lives of their loved ones just as much as we Americans do. Underneath the dirt they’re wearing and the different kind of clothes they’re wearing, they are people that want for their families just like we all do. And you’ve got to give them that.”
For more information on Jack Hoban and his philosophy of “living values,” visit his website.
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