Intro: I often am asked why a picture of a dog is on our shomen (place of honor) alongside pictures of the founders of DZR and Judo and Professor Pat Browne. I often launch into a series of stories that illustrate how a dog named Brutus taught me many of the most advanced principles of all true martial arts.
Brutus was a fearless and undefeated fighter. In fact, the only true fighter I have met in my life that demonstrated day to day true Shinin. Below you will be able to read a collections of stories from Sohn, my dad and other people who, nine years after his death, still talk about Brutus with a intense sense of admiration and amazement in their voice.
Kuroinukan means "black-dog-school" and is named after a Black Lab-mix I had found at the local pound in 1985. The pound master had guessed his age as about 6 months. He had been picked up at a house when his owner was arrested and put in jail. When I got him, he wasn't house-broken, nor did he know any commands. I named him "Brutus." He appeared to be smart as he learned commands quickly. The first time I put a leash on him and tried to take him for a walk he yanked the leash out of my hands 3 times. This on-going, life-long contest lead me to gripping correctly (with the ring and pinkie fingers tightly holding the leash and the other fingers more relaxed), moving from my hips to prevent getting yanked off-balance forward and snapping my wrist to create a kazushi back away from when he was about to bolt. This was the first of a series of contests he and I would have over the next decade.
We lived with a guy who owned a nasty 120 lb. Malamute, this dog was much larger than Brutus and loved to pick on him. Maybe this is where Brutus learned to be tough. A few years later when I was living in a different apartment Brutus and I went back for a visit. Almost immediately after they were off their leashes, the Malamute and Brutus were in a full-fledged fight. I think it was the first real fight Brutus had been in. He maneuvered to the Malamute's shoulder in line with him, jumped up and draped his foreleg over the other dog's back. From there he could move with the much bigger, but slower malamute. He bit the other dog's ear and face until I was finally able to separate them. I could tell from his demeanor that Brutus had felt like he had just beaten up the bully of the playground. I did not fail to notice that he had used positioning and technique to defeat the much bigger and stronger dog.
As he grew up, he and I would train together. I would sit seiza and hit him with open hand strikes and sweep his front legs. He would slash at me with his forelegs and, of course, bite at me. He won a "point" when he would latch onto my hand or arm and hold it for a second. I would score with a clean hit. We would slowly escalate until we were both fighting as hard and fast as possible. Patterns of attack and defense would ebb and flow as the training progressed. I would find an opening and make use of it a few times until he adjusted and responded with his own scoring attack. Then he would find a weakness in my defense and force me to change my responses. We would continue training until one of us tired out and then I would tell him what a good dog he was and he would lick my face and any wounds he had given me.
Brutus fought and killed anything that was a worthy opponent. He never picked on little dogs, but he held a special hatred for cats. I watched him kill cats by running in tight circles and pouncing them to death and squirrels by catching them as the paused part of the way up a tree. Once on a walk, we saw a large stray cat stalking a little tiny dog tied up in a backyard. I released Brutus from the leash and he pounced the cat twice before it made it to a tree and out of his reach. He then walked over to the trembling dog and sniffed him like he was checking to see if he was okay. Another bully had been vanquished.
On another walk in an alley, three dogs faced off with us. I released his leash to allow him the freedom to fight, he took about two steps forward as I moved towards the dog on the left (I never entered his fights, but this was three against one and I figured I could engage the one dog and let him deal with the other two). He stopped after the two steps and let out a deep bark that I could feel in my chest. The three dogs ran off. I watch in amazement as they ran in different directions. As we continued the walk, Brutus would stop for a second and glance at one of the dogs peeking out from behind a garage. They never came dared to meet his look for more than a few seconds before slinking back behind the building.
Brutus had fights or tried to have fights with black bears on many occasions, 4 raccoons, countless cats, squirrels, skunks, hedgehogs, dogs and even one timber wolf. He duck/goose hunted with me and was a very aggressive retriever. My dad, having never hunted with a dog, was firmly convinced of Brutus' abilities when he dove underwater and came up with a diving bluebill. He once dragged in a very large Canadian goose by the butt with it's wings wide open behind him. He finally got to shore and threw the goose on land as if to say, "Here's your damn goose."
We would go for daily walks in a nearby woods- actually- I walked and Brutus hunted. He immediately ran off into the woods at the beginning of the walk and usually I didn't see him until I was almost back to the beginning. On one of these walks, I heard a terrible crashing as something crossed the path in front of me. It was a black bear with Brutus nipping on its hind legs. Ten minutes later, he came back panting and seemingly pretty pleased with himself.
Brutus liked to employ strategy when his strength and speed were not enough. As one of Sohn's friends tells it, Brutus was chained on a leash in the backyard. A new neighbor had a very young Black lab puppy that would not get anywhere near Brutus. This friend watched as Brutus grabbed a stick and began playing with it like he was a puppy himself. It looked very strange to see Brutus acting like a mindless puppy, until Sohn's buddy saw the little puppy come near enough to Brutus to make a grab at the stick. Instead, Brutus made a grab at him and once again, showed that treachery and strategy will outdo youth and energy and allowed him to show the puppy who was the "big dog on the block."
On another walk in the woods, Brutus was off somewhere when I heard a slight rustle ahead of me. When I looked up a timber wolf was about 25 feet away. I thought I would give it a good scare. I got into a defensive stance and nailed it with my best kiai. He didn't even twitch. All the timber wolf did was calmly walk out onto the path to fully face me. I glanced around for some kind of weapon and was debating my next move, when Brutus burst out from behind me and chased the wolf off. I listened to him give off his yipes of being in a chase for about 15 minutes before there was silence. Another 10 minutes later, a very tired, but unscarred, Brutus appeared on the path.
The photos below were taken by my dad, Bruce Melenich, as Brutus fought and killed a raccoon. We were duck hunting on a point of land made up of cattails. Suddenly, we could hear Brutus in a fight with something. By the time my Dad and I got there, Brutus had the raccoon by the belly and was trying to shake it and break its neck. The raccoon was too heavy (about 25 lbs.) and was biting Brutus on his cheek. Brutus calmly walked out into the water. My dad started yelling at me to stop him since raccoons kill dogs by luring the dog out into the water and climbing on their head and drowning the dog. Even though I had a loaded shotgun in my hands, I had no clear shot at the raccoon without hitting Brutus and I was still struggling through the cattails to get near them. By the time I broke through the last line of brush, it was clear what Brutus was planning. He had walked out into shoulder deep water and was holding the raccoon's head under water and walking backwards in a tight circle. After the raccoon had drown, he released it and whacked it with his paw and watched it closely for any signs of life. When he saw none, he picked it up and brought me his kill.
In the photo on the left below, at this point in the fight, Brutus has the raccoon in his mouth by the belly and is walking backwards in a circle to drown it.
In the center photo below, Brutus closely studies the dead raccoon for any sign of life.
In the photo on the right, when he was satisfied that the raccoon was dead, he picked it up and brought it back to me- you can see it in my right hand.
Let me point out the obvious, Brutus had used the raccoon's own strategy against him (shinyo) and had used technique over power (Yawara). I have never understood how a instinct-driven, "dumb animal" could utilize principles of fighting that only advanced martial artists understand and instantly apply those principles in the midst of a life-and-death battle. This is why Brutus' picture is on the shomen of the dojo.
The only "fight" Brutus ever lost was with a 50 MPH Ford Taurus on his way back from chasing off a bear from where we had been sitting around a fire on the shore of Lake Superior. I heard the squealing of tires and the thump- a sound that I will never forget. He was dead by the time I got to him. I had lost my first sensei. Sohn and I will never forget Brutus, nor will we ever be able to repay the debt we own The Kuroinu.nal)