Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ninja Warriors: The Death Penalty Seminar

by Laura O'Sullivan, TLC 1998

The journey back to TLC for the Death Penalty College (a.k.a. Ninja Camp) began at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. some 12 years after my last visit. When I arrived in the Jackson Hole airport, I headed for the rest room. Events in rest rooms played an important role in my experience at The Ranch. Some of these events were explored extensively in late night psychodramas. In the first of these, I ran into someone I had met only once. I’ll call her Jenny Merrigan (okay, that really is her name), and learned she was also there for TLC Death Penalty College. I joined her, and her fellow traveler / TLC DPCer, Brandi Studer. Within moments, our number increased as other TLC peeps identified each other as attendees. Lifelong friendships forged in Jackson Hole airport (typical TLC stuff). When they discovered I had been to TLC before, the questions began with Jenny asking, “What’s up with this Ninja Camp?”

Ninja Camp? I needed to check into this reference, so I turned to the source2 for a little research about ninjas, and their legendary abilities. “Superhuman or supernatural powers were often associated with the ninja. Some legends include flight, invisibility, shapeshifting,3 the ability to ‘split’ into multiple bodies, the summoning of animals, and control over the five classical elements."4 Wow, Ninja camp is going to be fun! Curiosity took me further to find out about these mysterious elements. The five classical elements (Japanese style) are earth (chi), fire (ka), wind (fu), water (sui) and void (ku).5 Ninjas tried to exercise control over these elements throughout the week. Sometimes with success, other times…not so much.

We began the week getting to know each other. The fellow ninjas shared experiences, fears, confidences, and other good stuff. I knew from experience that I would need a lot of Kleenex as we delved deeply into the unexplored, unaccepted and previously unspoken emotions of our lives.6

Incredible faculty members7 descended upon the ranch from all over the country. Mitigation specialists, investigators, and attorneys hand-in-hand with psychodrama instructors explored both how to represent clients as warriors, and how to do it together.8 We transitioned from intensely personal experiences into exploring our clients and the areas of their cases we fear. To help in this exploration, we were lucky enough to meet and get to know two men, Kerry Cook and Darryl Burton. These two men each spent years of their lives in prison. Due to their strength in spirit,9 these men survived the tortures of incarceration and persevered to reveal the truth. Throughout this week, we experienced glimpses of their struggles and horrors through psychodrama, and in presentations. We are so grateful to Darryl and Kerry for the incredible gift of allowing us into their lives.

A weird thing happens when you start getting real with people.10 We learned that caring is, in fact, contagious. You find out that while you are unique and special, you’re not alone in your struggles. Through this realization, we suddenly can see the shared experiences we have with our clients, witnesses and jurors.

When we examined jury selection in the death penalty case, I was expecting a refresher of the TLC methods I learned in 1998.11 Guided by Gerry Spence and Cyndy Short, we learned new techniques to approach our jurors in the context of the death penalty case. It was amazing to explore these techniques interwoven with the TLC methods. Of course, we worked on voice in the courtroom as well. Isn’t it interesting how the meaning, effect and interpretation of what you say are so influenced by how you say it?

Besides being in total awe of the faculty, I was in total awe of my fellow ninjas. The ninjas included warriors from all over the country. (Texas won the attendance prize with 11 participants.) These ninja warriors across the nation are fighting for the lives of their clients against the prosecutors, the judges, the press, the counties, the states, and the country. Seeing these people work taught this ninja a lot.

Juxtaposed to these dramatic emotional days, was a night at the improv. Dipping our toes into improv12 waters, we joined the circle and started with a warm up exercise. We were laughing within moments. One of the highlights of the evening was the Bachelor and Bachelorette Game. It turns out improv is a blast. Interestingly, the juxtaposition resulted in the familiar reach for that Kleenex box. It was a nice change of pace to need a few to wipe away tears born of laughter.

While I did not gain the supernatural powers of flight, invisibility, or shapeshifting, I did see some superhuman powers13 associated with these ninja warriors. As for the five classical elements, I would like to point out that we spent the week treading the earth (chi) of Thunderhead Ranch, one of the most beautiful and magical places in the world. In the afternoons, ninjas could be seen sitting on the bridge or walking along the river’s edge admiring the water (sui). One warm day toward the end of the week, several of us lay in the grass and looked toward the sky (ku). In the darkness, we gazed in wonder at the night sky filled with stars.14 We enjoyed the wind (fu) at the mountaintop as we viewed the vast expanse, and the flames of the bonfire (ka) as we said goodbye to our friends. We laughed (a lot) and cried (a lot), and learned forever. Ninja Warrior Camp indeed.

1. This author in no way suggests that TLC change from Warriors or F Warriors to Ninja Warriors or the F Ninja Warriors. F Warriors really works. Rather, this discussion is meant to examine the serendipity of the moniker.
2. Wikipedia, of course. The author openly acknowledges her overreliance on this dubitably citable source.
3. Shapeshifting means to shift shapes! For example – “In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin created a transmogrification machine that allowed him to transform into anything he wished.” Cool. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapeshifting#Comics_and_animation
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninja
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_elements_(Japanese_philosophy)
6. Water – Sui represents “mental or emotional tendencies towards adaptation and change. Sui can be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.” (wiki five elements)
7. Earth – “When under the influence of this chi mode or ‘mood’, we are aware of our own physicality and sureness of action.” (wiki five elements)
8. “The ninja did not always work alone. Teamwork techniques exist: for example, in order to scale a wall, a group of ninja may carry each other on their backs, or provide a human platform to assist an individual in reaching greater heights.” (wiki ninja)
9. Fire – “Ka can be associated with motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.” (wiki five elements)
10. Wind – “Mentally and emotionally, it represents an ‘open-minded’ attitude and carefree feeling. It can
be associated with will, elusiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.” (wiki five elements)
11. TLC ’98. Yes, I know this dates me. You do the math.
12. Void – Ku also means sky or heaven. Ku “represents spirit, thought, and creative energy.” “A warrior properly attuned to the Void can sense his surroundings and act without thinking, and without using his physical senses.” (wiki five elements)
13. “Intended effects [of kuji (an esoteric ninja practice used to invoke superhuman feats)] range from physical and
mental concentration, to more incredible claims about rendering an opponent immobile, or even the casting of
magical spells.” (wiki ninja)
14. With the exception of the night Brandi, Kerry and I were talking late into the night in the cookhouse without a single flashlight. On that night, not a single star shone in the sky, and the moon was nowhere to be seen (which makes it very difficult to get back to the barn).

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