“The man who gets to hit first,” he said, “gets to hit twice.” His statement struck at me, getting me to recognize the effect those words have on our lives as a whole, and not just about baseball. It was just about a week ago when I found myself, in the middle of the night, sitting across a table full of devoured cheeseburgers, greasy wrappers, and empty ketchup packets talking baseball and tactics with one of the best, retired All Star and home run slugger Carlos Pena. Carlos played professional baseball in the MLB for 14 years. It was New York, it is October, and the Yankees had just completed their Game 5 win over the Astro’s and the vibe of the winning city, the pangs filled by the food, and the banter flowing across the table couldn’t have been better. We talked frantically, like middle school kids, about everything. It seems, for Pena and me, that we are fans of the others’ work.
We talked bat and carbine choices, can you put mayonnaise on fries, boots and cleats, Coke or Pepsi, gloves, gloves, and gloves, and do all helmets hurt one’s head. For him playoff baseball was in full production and I had just finished our Killhouse class so our thoughts about techniques, tactics, and execution were at the forefront for both us. I asked Carlos about stepping to the plate in a World Series, with a game to win, bat in hand. He asked me about stepping through the threshold of a door, lives to be saved, gun in hand. In our talk with each other one thing became abundantly clear: we are the same man, faced with the same choices, in similar yet abundantly different circumstances. I’m not the first person to draw comparisons throughout history to sport and human conflict but the dynamics between the two are so prevalent it is hard not to.
As the hours wore on, we kept pace. We talked of the generalities of preparation and mindset and strategy, and of the specifics of hand placement, vision, and execution. There were a few times when we stood, pantomiming our methods, surrounded by eatery and patrons and lost in our world. As we dove into the professionalism of each others lives it all kept coming back to one place: the plate and the threshold. Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher and teacher, said it best, “ No man steps into the same river twice, for he is not the same man and it is not the same river.” The plate and the threshold. Each time we step to it it isn’t the same, and neither are we.
At some point in the night I got to writing down some of the great points and finer thoughts Carlos was sharing. The one above stuck with me more than most: the man who gets to hit first gets to hit twice. Think about that as it applies to our context: the man who gets to choose first, the man who gets to move first, the man who gets to shoot first, the man who gets to light first, the man who gets to strike first, the man who gets to run first, etc. The entire concept of hitting first in the Killhouse puts you on the offensive – everything is your responsibility – whereas so much of what clearing does is structured as defensive. Defense doesn’t win games, offense does. A point on the board makes the winner.
People often want me to explain the Killhouse, to sum up the training and experience and environment, and it is difficult to do because it is unlike any other tactics training you have been exposed to: the Killhouse isn’t about clearing rooms or clearing structures. In fact, it has nothing to do with clearing at all. The Killhouse is about dynamic movement through a world in constant flux. I don’t teach room clearing because in that environment you don’t need to learn it. Single-person survival strategies in the house – or any environment – don’t involve room clearing. Clearing rooms infers you are keeping ground whereas the reality of individual tactics is you are alone and none of your environment is yours. If clearing is the community pool, Killhouse is the surf zone at the beach. You are not keeping anything, you are just moving through it. Clearing equals system and the surf zone has no system. I fell in love years ago with the art of Clark Little, a Hawaiian photographer, who introduced and has refined the artistry that exists within the surf zone, that threshold where the tremendous power of the sea meets the unforgiving land. It is called shorebreak. “The shorebreak is my comfort zone, “ he writes, “I absolutely love it. It’s always different.”
Do you see the similarities? Threshold of the plate, the door, the beach. Randomness of the structure, the pitch, the surf. Completeness of the movement, the swing, the break. The variabilities of choice ended through the finality of the act. The Killhouse isn’t about clearing, it’s about putting points on the board. Room clearing for a lone person is like bunting in a one-on-one game of baseball: it may work great to get you on base, but you need to score. Runs win games just as hits stop fights.
Killhouse takes a person across the threshold and brings them inside the constant ebb and flow of the shorebreak: the dynamics of change and the challenge of living. Nothing is consistent within the environment, circumstances, or the surroundings but the inconsistency. Killhouse is about recognizing that each time you step to the threshold the house is different, and so are you.
-Matt Graham, GRAHAM COMBAT