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Zen and the art of self-defense

Contemplation is one part of Bukido, created by a one-time SEAL. Confrontation is another.

November 11, 2004|Rachel Resnick | Special to The Times

Here comes ex-Navy SEAL Richard "Mack" Machowicz. Roaring, handsome face turned homicidal, black eyes now merciless, Mack rushes me with preternatural speed and grabs my throat in a crushing grip. A glass necklace pops off my neck and sprays beads over the polished wood floor of the Santa Monica Zen Center. Then I'm gone, body still thrashing and flailing, but brain checked out. There but not there.

I know, because later I watch the footage of the choking demo. Otherwise I can't remember those 10 seconds at all: Mack throttling me and twisting me down onto my belly, grinding my face into the mat, asking if I'm through. When I stand, tears of humiliation slide down my face. The seven other participants gaze at me in horror and pity. The one other woman, Nancy Marks, looks at me with anger, telling me later: "I was furious at you for being the helpless woman, for not fighting back."

If Mack had wanted to, he could've killed me. I would've died, leaving behind nothing but an ineffectual scratch, a jagged red line scratched eye to ear on the side of Mack's face. I always wondered if I would survive such an attack. Now I know.

All strangers, the eight of us meet for the three-day F.I.S.T. (Fundamental Intensive Skills Training) Bukido course. We hail from Jacksonville, Fla., and Ames, Iowa; from Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. We are here for different reasons, each seeking something. Each jumped through hoops to get here -- hoops such as locating the half-hidden Zen Center with no handholding to grease the experience.

"I've had people call me from the airport," Mack says. " 'How do I get to the Zen Center?'

"I say, 'That's part of the test.' "

Mack believes if clients want something bad enough, they'll figure it out.

He spent years of trial-and-error cooking up his own distinctive blend of SEAL training flavored with Zen. He calls the result "Bukido" (which means, loosely translated from the Japanese, "way of the warrior spirit"). Samurai who steeped themselves in Zen, he says, learned indifference to discomfort, fear and the threat of death.

Some might balk at Mack's training, thinking the force excessive, the violence extreme, over-the-top. But those who are drawn to his no-limits philosophy are seeking a wake-up call. The participants bring some secret shortcoming, an unseen barrier that they are ready to cut through. For Bukido's special dose of shock-time reality, offered quarterly, they're willing to pay $1,500 -- just for the privilege of getting brutalized by Mack.

"THIS doesn't look like a martial arts school," John Rivera says that first early morning. It's dark, not yet 6 a.m. We are inside the immaculate center. On the wall, an ancient Buddhist gong, a shelf for incense and an American flag. On the snack counter, boxes of bandages and bottles of Tylenol, arnica gel tubes and ice packs set the stage for fear, for anticipation of bruising, wounding, breaking and bleeding.

Rivera, a fit silver-haired businessman from Indianapolis, found Mack, 38, when his 2000 book, "Unleash the Warrior Within: Develop the Focus, Discipline, Confidence and Courage You Need to Achieve Unlimited Goals," popped up on an Amazon search for "goal setting." In the book, Mack, a 10-year Navy SEAL vet -- a sniper and hand-to-hand combat specialist -- shows how to apply a warrior mentality to everyday life.

Rivera, like many of the F.I.S.T participants, has never seen Mack in person until today. But there he is, standing quietly near the counter, chewing on a bagel, greeting the participants.

Low-key in a black "Bukido" T-shirt and simple karate pants, Mack commands attention with the unmistakable intensity in his black eyes. There is a coiled readiness to his body. His skull is buzzed as clean as a farm-fresh egg.

Mack is studying to be a Zen priest. Each grueling day of our training will end in a meditation session with the center's head priest, William Yoshin Jordan Sensei, a rabidly patriotic, weather-beaten guy with a scolding voice.

Nancy Marks approaches Mack, asks him whether he's ever killed anyone, and what was that like. Mack answers by quoting the oft-quoted Marine sniper who told the embedded reporter who'd asked him "What'd you feel?" after a hit. "The recoil of the rifle," the Marine replied.

Travis Healy worries that he's too passive in his daily life. A tall, soft-spoken Mormon family man from Utah, Healy emanates an unassuming but rock-solid presence. Seeking a more take-charge attitude, Healy applied Mack's combat principles from "Unleash the Warrior Within" to his business and saw immediate results. He's hungry for more.

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