Friday, October 1, 2010


Brooklyn is New York City's most populous borough with approximately 2.5 million residents, and second largest in area. It is also the westernmost county on Long Island. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York City and the second most densely populated county in the United States, after Manhattan.

Brooklyn has played a major role in various aspects of American culture including literature, cinema and theater as well as being home to the world renowned Brooklyn Academy of Music and the second largest public art collection in the United States is housed in the Brooklyn Museum.
  • Walt Whitman wrote of the Brooklyn waterfront in his classic poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.
  • Francis Guy painted multiple views of Brooklyn in the late 1810s in a very precise and topographic manner.
  • Betty Smith's 1943 book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and the 1945 film based on it, are among the best-known early works about life in Brooklyn.
  • William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice is set in Flatbush, just off Prospect Park, during the summer of 1947.
  • Arthur Miller's 1955 play A View From the Bridge is set in Brooklyn.
  • Paule Marshall's 1959 novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, about Barbadian immigrants during the Depression and World War II is also set in Brooklyn.
  • Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta was set in Bay Ridge, an Italian neighborhood in southern Brooklyn.
  • Neil Simon's 1983 play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, is set in 1937 Brooklyn.
Many Brooklyn neighborhoods are ethnic enclaves where particular ethnic groups and cultures predominate. The Brooklyn accent is often portrayed as 'typical New York' in American television and film.

Brooklyn is my “hometown” (not that you could ever call Brooklyn a town.) It is where I grew up, where I trained in ninjutsu before it was a household word, where I later established my martial arts studios (the New York Ninpokai and the Raven Arts Institute), and the starting point for all my globe-spanning travels. It is also where fellow sensei Chai Eun Hillmann prematurely lost his life yesterday.

According to the New York Times, a dispute began early Thursday over two dogs tied too closely to the other outside a bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Hillmann was fatally stabbed while trying to untangle his dog’s leash from another’s. It was the type of minor skirmish common enough on the crowded sidewalks of New York, reported NYT staffer Colin Moynihan, but as the owners of the dogs separated them, things quickly escalated. By the time it was over, two employees of the Branded Saloon, on Vanderbilt Avenue, had been stabbed.

Chai Eun Hillmann, an aspiring actor and a martial arts expert, was stabbed twice in the torso and killed. Hillmann, 41, worked as a bartender at the Branded, but was not working when he stopped by with his dog to see friends and participate in a charity poker game in the basement. At some point, the dogs became uncomfortably entangled and Hillmann and the other dog owner, Mrs. Pagan, both moved to unravel the leashes. An argument ensued, with Mr. Pagan confronting Hillmann.

“Hillmann put his hand on Mrs. Pagan’s arm, indicating he could handle it,” Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said in a statement. “When Daniel Pagan saw Hillmann touch his wife, a fight between the two men erupted. Pagan produced a knife and stabbed Hillmann and another man.” Hillmann staggered back into the Branded, witnesses said, where friends tried to give him first aid and called 911. The police have arrested Daniel Pagan, who had served time for manslaughter, and charged him with murder.

Mr. Hillmann was born in Korea but grew up in the United States. He studied martial arts and in the mid-1990s was the sensei of Chai Karate in Ardsley, in Westchester County. In an interview in 1996 in The New York Times, he described martial arts as a means of self defense, saying of its practitioners: “They won’t be victims,” and adding, “They can choose whether to continue confrontation or get out of it and flee.”

As a life-long Brooklyn resident, it disturbs me that another human being has senselessly lost his life because such things continue to happen in my borough.
As an instructor of traditional Andalucian knife-fighting arts, it angers me that people with Spanish surnames continue to perpetuate the negative stereotypes that have, unfortunately, long existed regarding “Hispanics and knives.”
But it is as a martial arts instructor of over 30 years that I am most disturbed. We train our minds to be constantly alert, recognizing that awareness is the best defense. We maintain a good attitude and a patient demeanor to (hopefully) elicit good will and rational behavior from others. We train our bodies to respond skillfully with lightning reflexes when avoidance is not possible. And despite all these extra efforts, some unthinking sociopath still blithely draws a knife over the harmless mischief that two pets get into!

We cannot make sense of the killer’s senseless actions, nor can we second guess the victim’s reactions, whatever those may have been. All we can constructively do is to keep this tragic incident foremost in our minds and remember that such things happen, even to trained martial arts practitioners, and even in Brooklyn. If you already train, you must train even harder, expand your awareness, and realize that it is better to be over-cautious than overly trusting. If you don’t already train, or if you’re among those who smugly laugh at our incessant practice, you need to finally look in the mirror and honestly ask yourself – not only if this could happen to you – but what you would do if it did. You’d better make some hard decisions: stay away from people and bars, start training, or purchase a handgun.

And until you decide, you’d better forget about walking around with a sissy dog.