In 1993, I went to a little school in Sissonville, West Virginia called Flinn Elementary. Just like kids in school today, we had a book fair that would come to our school each year. At this fair, they would haul in large metal containers that would open up to reveal shelves and shelves of books. There were of course books of all genres on the shelves, but I remember specifically one year when I saw a book on “how to be a ninja”.
I’ve since looked all over for this book, both at my parent’s house and my own, but like many childhood things, it seems to have been lost to the boxes in the attic. I’ve even looked on Amazon and other book stores, but have been unsuccessful in my search for this small little black book. But back then, I picked up the book and began flipping through it. Page after page of this book had illustrations about the history of ninjas; how they fought, how they lived, how they remained hidden, and even how they performed seemingly mystical feats.
For a 5th grader, the book was expensive, but I remember thinking that I would pay nearly any price to reveal the ancient secrets of the ninja. I read the book cover to cover several times (it wasn’t that long). The secrets it revealed were not so profound once I had read it, but even still, I remember returning to the book again and again in the years following. Always intrigued and always searching for what made these people so special and how I could emulate their mysteries in my own life. When I entered Middle School for the first time, I was confronted with situations and people that challenged my understanding of human decency. I remember sitting on the steps outside of the shop class during lunch and a boy decided it was time to attempt to beat me up.
We rolled around on the ground for several minutes until a teacher happened by and broke up the fight. After that, a girl decided that it was her job to attempt to beat me with a broom handle in the hall when I was attempting to get to the restroom. Clearly, there were some children in this school with issues, who had no trouble dealing with their own issues by beating on their fellow students. I remember sitting in my room, attempting to think of a solution to the issue that I was not the largest person in school and certainly not the most skilled fighter. How was I to defend myself from people intent on doing me harm? Some of whom would access makeshift weapons. I thought about the school rules; I couldn’t bring a real weapon with me, so while I had access to knives, bats, and other weapons, I clearly could never have those on me at the school.
I remembered my book. Taking out my book I remember flipping over to the page that spoke about how the ninja dressed. While many of the movies I had seen showed ninjas in the classic black outfit with the hood and veil over their face, the book was suggesting that most of the time, the ninja merely looked like everyone else. That while they might have had weapons and tools hidden on their person, as they walked down the street, they appeared as though they were a simple merchant, tradesman, or even a beggar. I had always thought that aspect of a ninja was stupid; I would usually just skim through that part of the book, but now I was starting to see the wisdom. Look like everyone else, but be prepared for nearly anything. I remember believing that training was easily hidden. My parents at the time didn’t have a lot of money, however, so I was unable to be trained in a school for martial arts. What they could afford though, was a book. I asked for and got, Bruce Lee’s book Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Again, I poured over the book time and time again. Some of the illustrations were in Japanese and I remember being frustrated that some of the ideas were lost on me because of language.
Going to the backyard at my house and placing the book on the ground as I went through the different stances and attempted to immolate the strikes I was seeing in the still images. By no means was I even slightly competent, but I studied nonetheless. Compared to the random bully, however, I was a master. I couldn’t take a weapon to school, but I was allowed a belt to hold up my pants. I remember strapping a belt outside of my belt loops and practicing the unstrapping of it quickly. I figured that while a belt was not nunchucks or a whip, it would work in a pinch.
While I never had to use my belt, that summer I was confronted (of all places) at church camp by an entire group of older kids who decided it was time to fight. Looking back, I believe I was quite lucky. These young lads weren’t smart enough to attack me all at once but instead decided to rush in at me one at a time. Using their momentum against them and attempting to channel my inner Bruce Lee, I flung them off to the side as they came in. When they were down, I used my most valuable resource (my legs) and got myself out of there. Whatever meager skills I had learned stumbling around in my backyard had been enough. While I am sure I would have survived the beatings of a couple of ten-year-olds, these instances left a mark in my mind that remains even today. I can’t say that my life has been highlighted by making myself into a honed weapon of hidden skill.
Or that I was always prepared with all tools I would need, but in recent years, I have been brought back to this idea. The hidden warrior. John Lovell; a popular firearms, tactics, and NRA trainer has a video entitled, The Most Dangerous Man in the Room. In the video, he talks about a man he knew who looked like a normal fella in every way possible, but that this man knew how to kill. He had been trained as a warrior and understood that in nearly any room he might enter, he was most likely the most dangerous person in that room.
Upon becoming an adult and finishing my bachelor’s in Psychology, I worked for several years at a psychiatric hospital as one of the men in white coats. I’m sure you have seen them in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; the men who come running when someone gets out of control. A realization began to form in my mind, that the death threats I was getting every other week from some of the people I was encountering, could possibly be credible. I stood in the front day room and looked out at the parking lot where my car was normally parked and watched one of the nurses as she walked casually to her own vehicle.
At that moment, one of the many patients came up beside me with a cup of coffee and made a remark about how kind this particular nurse had been that day. We stood there and watched her pull away. How easy would it have been for that patient to write down her license number? How easy would it have been for them to see the make and model of the car, then when they got out, just wait for that car to leave and follow the nurse home? It would have been all too easy. I began parking down the street, out of view of the hospital’s windows… and I began to research what it meant to have and carry a gun. I couldn’t carry it inside the hospital (that would have been very foolish), but I could keep it in the glove compartment of my car and on my body when had to leave for home.
After several weeks of research into both the laws of concealed carry in my state, and several nights of talking over the issue with my wife, I finally went and took the required class, bought my first gun (a Smith and Wesson 614 snub-nose revolver), and got a small pocket holster. I went to the range several times and began to get used to this deadly little device that I not-so-casually tucked into my pants. I didn’t feel safer. Much to the contrary. I was scared to death I was going to shoot myself in the foot or shoot someone else when I sat down in a chair. The bulge of the object was a constant reminder of the possible death I was carrying around with me. I understood the need for the thing, but I didn’t like it. The gun scared me, as it should; into having a great deal of respect for it.
It is this understanding of hidden preparedness that lead me to a discussion I had with my father several years ago. We had recently gone to my aunt’s house for a Halloween party and I had decided to wear my gun in a shoulder holster. This was fine, but after walking around the neighborhood with the kids and then coming back into my aunt’s house with the heat blowing, I was warm… very warm. I shed my sweater which left my t-shirt and the holster on top of that t-shirt laid bare for my family to see. No one really commented about it much, but my father noticed. It was a couple of weeks later and he had brought my kids back from a visit he sat out in my driveway and said he wanted to talk to me about something.
“I don’t think you should be showing people that you are carrying a gun like that, even in our family.” He said. “Not that I think there’s anything wrong with carrying a gun, but I just think the fewer people who know about that the better.” I nodded my head in understanding and told him he was most likely right about that. However, later on, that night I really began to ponder what my father had said to me. I had heard about The Gray Man Theory before. Had even watched a few YouTube videos talking about it, but it always came as a novelty and not a necessity in my mind. I’m not a CIA guy or a Spy, why should I care if someone knows I am carrying a gun? What does it ultimately matter? Lots of people open carry every day. Why shouldn’t people be able to see my gun and even comment about it?
I can be an ambassador for the second amendment and have meaningful conversations about firearms rights and how a gun can be a very useful thing in a person’s life. My father’s words ate at me though. He was concerned that people within my own family would know I carried a gun. My family is a fairly calm family for the most part. In the past, there have been some major issues, but in current history, we are a very normal and boring group of folks. There wasn’t anyone at the Halloween party that I would ever need to worry about taking advantage of the fact that I was carrying a firearm. However, I think my father was pointing more to the habit and less to the specific situation we were in.
I thought again about The Gray Man Theory and couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought back to the ninja book. I thought about my childhood and how I had worn my normal belt on the outside of the belt loops of my pants so it could be easily removed as a makeshift weapon. There was value in this idea of being prepared, but hidden. I began to consider what it meant to blend in. What it meant to be normal. What it meant to not stand out in a crowd. What it meant… to be a Gray Man.
NOTE: I find it odd looking back on this article that I wrote some years ago now and thinking about this again. It’s breaking with the very idea of the Gray Man by writing the article itself, but I still find value in it’s being read. I hope you find value in it as well. Thanks for reading.
D. Michl Lowe