Gordon & Barbara in Paris

Gordon & Barbara in Paris
Here's Looking at YOU

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tom Laughlin/ Billy Jack creator has died

It is with a heavy heart that we tell you, Tom Laughlin died on Thursday, at the age of 82. Known by the character persona of Billy Jack, a character he created, Laughlin was a unique link in the timeline of martial arts movies, as we transitioned away from a narrow, Asian-centered view of the warrior philosophy, toward a more realistic and broad view that honors indigenous cultures from around the globe, people who have traditionally governed themselves according to Core Human Values, Traits and Conditions as outlined in the Five Principles of Everything. In fact, in that book I tell a story about a young man whose interest in Billy Jack helped to open his eyes to a healthy life, which had eluded him in his earlier years.  The following--in memory of Laughlin’s passing and to express how important his contribution was to many-- is an excerpt from The Five Principles, where Billy Jack was referenced:

Movement and stillness, tension and relaxation, thinking and feeling all have appropriate times and places. Human beings, exercising a proper responsibility to all the forces that surround them, learn to balance their lives with these contradictory forces, so that they can receive the benefits of all.
The definition of “beneficial” is also always subject to the peculiarities of the time, place and situation (as we've seen in a previous chapter). Again, we never know when a piece of information is going to be of use to us. Likewise, we never know how our actions or words are going to affect others. I often tell the following story to my students: Before I worked as a teacher in L.A. County Jails, I worked with emotionally disturbed children at a facility called Hathaway. During my close to seven years there, I worked with hundreds of kids and learned a lot from each of them. During this time, I was working on obtaining my Master of Arts degree and on my first black belt. Part of the job was that we lived in a house with about twenty kids for two and a half days each week. Staff was rotated so that there were always two “house parents” on duty at all times. While living in the house for my shift, I had to practice martial arts while the children were asleep. One boy, about ten years of age, sneaked out to watch me while I practiced and we formed a strong bond.  The reason I let him hedge on his bedtime and his unusual attachment to me was that he was a half white/half Indian kid who had formed a strong bond to a character in the movie, BILLY JACK. This character was also half-white and half-Indian, a Viet Nam War vet who had returned to the reservation to save an Indian School from local evils. The local evil took the form of unscrupulous white ranchers who were illegally hunting and capturing wild horses for the dog food trade and who also hated anything related to Native Americans or hippies. Billy Jack's tools for keeping the kids safe were his hands and feet and “Green Beret tricks” he'd learned while serving in Viet Nam. Oh, I forgot to mention that Billy Jack had a signature black, round-topped, flat brimmed hat. The boy who wanted to watch me at night-we'll call him Little Billy--also wore one of these hats. Little Billy had been badly abused by adults growing up, I was told, and when I made the connection between Little Billy's heritage and his association with the Billy Jack character, I realized that it made him feel safer to know that someone was practicing martial arts in the same house where he slept, just as wearing the Billy Jack hat made him feel less vulnerable. I also encouraged Little Billy to be proud of his Native heritage and told him about some of my teachers and of the great heroes of the American past who were his ancient relatives. We shared some good moments together and eventually he was removed from the therapeutic environment of the Village.
Now, we need to flash-forward about 20 years. I was teaching ESL, GED preparation, drug and alcohol abuse prevention and high school diploma subjects within the L.A. County Jails to the inmates, sitting in my classroom with about 50 inmate-students when the phone rang. This was a little unusual, in itself, since I got very few calls in jail. However, what was stranger was when I picked up the receiver and a voice at the other end said, “Hello sir. I'm looking for Gordon Richiusa, sir.” Immediately there was recognition.
“Little Billy? Is that you?”
“Yes, sir. I didn't think you'd remember me sir.”
“Billy,” I said, interrupting. “Have you been in the service?”
“Yes, Sir,” he responded. “How did you know, sir?”
“Billy, you can stop calling me Sir,” I said, and then quickly added. “I can't believe this. How did you get through on this line? How did you find me? Why are you calling?”
Billy told me that he had left the home where I worked with him, had gotten his high school diploma and his black belt and then joined the service. He had served honorably and was discharged after which he had pursued him heritage and found his maternal grandfather on the Piute Reservation in Nevada. His grandfather was a medicine man in the tribe and had agreed to teach Billy the old ways.
“Congratulations,” I told him. “But, why are you calling me now?”
“I was in a ceremony recently and I had a vision of you telling me the one thing that had changed my life for the better. I just wanted to let you know and to thank you.”
For some reason I was stunned. Billy told me that he had been hunting for me for a couple of weeks, going back to Hathaway then following leads until finally finding out that I was working in jail. He then had to get the education department's phone number and convince a few receptionists to put him through to the phone I was talking on, all because I had finally said something memorable that had benefited someone's life in a profound way. I couldn't wait to hear what these words were that had affected him so much that he felt he had to find me.
“So what did I say?”
“You told me that there are two ways to breathe.”
I admit that I was a little deflated. This did not seem profound at any level and I did not immediately remember the context in which I had imparted this questionable wisdom. “Could you please explain?” I asked.
Billy went on to remind me that often the children in our care would have what we lovingly referred to as, “freak outs.”  These were emotional displays, tantrums of monumental proportions in some cases. Billy was legendary in his writhing, howling and frothing exhibitions, so much so that during one episode four grown adults where holding him down in a panic shouting directions such as “Calm down! CALM DOWN!”
When I saw what was happening, I lay down on the floor next to Billy's head, with my face next to his and said, “I know this is going to be hard Billy, but these staff members are not going to let you go until you calm down. When you calm down, they will calm down. I want you to try something. Just notice the way you are breathing.” He was near hyperventilating, rapidly panting between growls. Try thinking about nothing else except your breathing. If you can slow your breathing, you will relax. When you relax, they will let you go.”
Billy said that not only did it work in this situation, but also it was probably the most significant piece of information in his later successes. You never know what affect your words or actions are going to have on others. The best we can do is to deal with every situation honestly, honorably and with respect that each action may be of far greater significance that we realize in the heat of the moment. As a person who calls himself a teacher, it's a big responsibility that I take more seriously now. I thanked Billy for calling me and got his permission to tell this story to others.

Remember: The Gradual Diet, by Barbara Rich is included as one of fifteen bonus essays, by notable experts about how they use the five principles to achieve success.

Below is a theatrical trailer for the movie Billy Jack, which basically tells the story in brief:

No comments:

Post a Comment