Ghomeshi, Justice Harkins and the Merry-Go-Round of Shame for Abuse Survivors

As an abuse survivor, I live with the past on a daily basis. For the most part I can function normally and not dwell on the horror of the past. But sometimes events happen in the news and when I read them or hear about them it sends me into an overwhelming sadness because it triggers memories that I would rather forget.

You would think that in the 21st century we would have evolved to pay closer attention to those who have been abused. However, recent events make it very clear to me that Canadians are mostly only paying a lip-service to protecting survivors and not bothering to empower victims of physical and sexual abuse to speak out.

When I first attempted to report my abusers, I had taken months to muster up the courage with the help of my therapist. She came with me to the local police station and I went in to report the crime. It took every bit of courage to speak with the front desk officer who stopped me when I told him I wanted to report sexual abuse crimes against me when I was a child. He abruptly stopped me and asked if it had happened in that jurisdiction. When I said no, he said there was nothing he could do because I had to go to the town where it happened to report it. He then grabbed some papers and walked away from the desk as he was feeling uncomfortable speaking to a crying six foot four man. My courage was dashed and I felt such an overwhelming feeling of shame for attempting to speak up about my abuse.

After a few more weeks I went to the small town where the abuse happened. I went to the police station (alone) and attempted to report the crimes again. I was cut off by the reporting clerk and told rather coldly that they could not do anything because the crimes happened too long ago and reporting them would be useless. Again I left the station feeling ashamed and disempowered.

It’s taken a very long time for me to speak out publically about my abusers and what happened to me. As a male it seems that few people care – really care – about the effects of abuse on survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse unless it has happened to them. I pray one day there will be no such thing as childhood sexual and physical abuse. The hidden scars and wounds – the psychological ones – are some of the hardest to deal with alone. I still feel alone at times, and I wish I didn’t.

This morning I was looking at the news feeds and the Jian Gomeshi case. For those of you who may not know, Ghomeshi was accused of sexual and physical assault against a number of women. His history of abuse dates back to university in 1988. He was recently acquitted of all charges. He is free. The judge, Justice William Harkins ruled against the plaintiffs and found that their stories were inconsistent, and did not seem truthful. I would like to speak to that.

If you have ever been abused physically and/or sexually you are immediately in a position of doubt. Only a small amount of cases ever get reported because of how difficult it is for survivors to come forward. I tried to report the crimes against me years after they happened and it took years because I had to process those events and come to some understanding that what happened to me was not my fault. I am proud those women who came forward did so. I am sad as a Canadian that there is such a lack of support for victims of abuse – both male and female – to feel protected when they do come forward. We are taking several steps backward in dismissing those women as liars. This is exactly why survivors find it so hard to speak out.

I am tired of the shame. I am glad that Justice William Harkins obviously has not ever been a victim of physical or sexual abuse. I am glad he was never left in a bathroom bleeding because he was raped at ten years old and thrown down stairs in an attempt to have his neck broken. I am so happy he has had a perfect life. I am so sad that men like Gomeshi have to choke women in an attempt to feel powerful. In fact, I am just plain sad.

If you are a victim of physical or sexual abuse, I believe you. The courage to come forward far outweighs the ridicule and the shame that doing so creates. There are people and groups who will listen. It is important for you to stand up and speak out. Too many cases of abuse continue to be unreported. This is the biggest crime. I applaud those who come forward as much as I applaud those who stand up for those who cannot.

And reporting abuse is not like presenting a clear concise paper on the effects of global warming on the north pole. Reporting abuse contains emotion, shame, fear and details can be dropped only to be remembered later. Blaming people for not disclosing fully, or leaving out details is not the way to justify whether or not they were actually abused or not. The emotional wounds are what cut deep and are nearly invisible to see. People often leave out the more painful details when reporting abuse because of the fear they will be ridiculed for it – just like the women are feeling in the Ghomeshi case.

My name is Dr. Nicholas Harrison. I am proud that I speak out about abuse. I am a survivor. I know it was not my fault. If you ever share with me that you were abused, I will support you and let you know it was not your fault.

Beginnings, Z95.3 and Nick The Guy…

I know some people who are searching for their WHY. Your WHY is what defines you, gives you purpose and drives you to live your life to the best of your abilities. It’s a big thing to know your WHY. I am sure many people go through their lives without thinking too much about their WHY. I believe we can have many WHYs in our lives and that they can change according to our continuing change in life.

I would like to share WHY I will at times dress up in costumes even though I am a fully grown man. In order to do this I need to go back a number of years.

When I was a child the original Star Wars trilogy served as a kind of ‘proto-therapy’ helping me find security in a fictional world where people stood up against tyranny and hostility. The Star Wars world was my security blanket. It made me feel special, and provided me a sense of belonging since I had become so disillusioned and alienated with the world in which I actually lived. The original trilogy was where I learned to define good and evil, the power of conviction and the importance of standing up for what is right, not just for the individual, but rather for the whole.

As I became an adult I was not merely content with the accumulation of Star Wars merchandise. T-shirts and collectibles were great, but I wanted to find things not many others had. I wanted to create a Star Wars reality beyond that. When the announcement came that Lucas was going to create a new Star Wars trilogy (episodes 4-6) I purchased a stormtrooper costume kit. It arrived in a huge box and I had to make the helmet and trim the armor. When I was finished I knew I had to do more than let it sit on a mannequin. I had to show it off.

My favourite radio station back then was Z95.3. I loved the morning show with Janice Ungaro and Darren B. Lamb. Episode I was soon to be released and I had no desire to wait in line for the movie (at that time there was no such thing as advance sales or assigned seating) so I contacted Janice Ungaro and left a message for her at the radio station. Since I was an improviser with the Vancouver TheatreSports League I thought I could offer an appearance in my suit in exchange for some preview passes. Janice returned my call later that same morning. She and Darren had no passes to the film (Lucasfilm was not giving them out) but they really wanted to do something with my stormtrooper costume. We decided that one of the radio people “Freeway Frank” would pick me up and take me to downtown Vancouver. He would help me suit up and I would wear an earpiece and mic in my phone to call Darren and Janice at the station. They would give me direction and I would follow it. That morning the bit we did was called “What can a Stormtrooper get for free?” I went to the Hotel Vancouver and asked for a room for Lord Vader (and abruptly left as security was called. I did end up getting free coffee at Starbucks and a few other things. At the end of the morning Darren and Janice asked Frank to drive me back to the radio station. I was paid in “swag” (free promotional items as payment for my morning with them). That same morning they asked me to join the Waking Crew. My radio persona was to be called “Nick The Guy” and my career as a morning stunt guy began – all thanks to my stormtrooper costume.

Here is a link to a video I did when I had a short-lived television show “The Nick the Guy Show” on Shaw. This piece was titled “The Lonely Stormtrooper” that I created with my co-creator Jean Paul Carthy:

“Nick The Guy” would go on to live on radio in Vancouver for sixteen years. Not a bad run and all because of my love of Star Wars. The Nick the Guy character was a bit of an idiot man-child who loved dressing up. That job really got me into putting together costumes – yes it was radio but I was the front-line person on the streets – essentially the face of the Waking Crew. I was “interactive’ and did hundreds of bizarre stunts – possibly the most famous – riding a bicycle through an automated car wash. Yes, things I did were insane.

Costuming to me was part of my job, and I enjoyed making people happy or annoyed. By the time Nick The Guy was played out in 2014, I had amassed an impressive costume collection.

Finally able to go back to my Star Wars roots, I began working on more Star Wars costumes, eventually completing a screen accurate Darth Vader. The internet was an amazing source of accuracy and found several groups dedicated to screen accurate costuming. I ended up becoming a member of the Rebel Legion and the 501st. The 501st is an amazing group that raises money for children’s charities and are known as “The Bad Guys Who Do Good”. Appearing with them is a rewarding experience. Since I am “friends” with Darth Vader, I am able to experience “trooping” on a whole new level. There is a structure to my cosplay now. Darth Vader has a humor reminiscent of my Nick The Guy persona, but he is gentle and though towering, always engages the children he meets with genuine interest and kind-heartedness (never tell Vader that).

Not long ago Vader was invited to meet a very special friend of the 501st Legion prior to her birthday party. The appearance was approved and so Vader and two troopers appeared at her home. Prior to appearing I decided that Vader should bring this girl a birthday gift – I mean as a Lord he would be aware of such protocol. So, with a Darth Vader Tsum Tsum in hand, Vader and two of his troopers visited the girl on her Sixth (or Sith) Birthday.

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The young girl was so happy to have her favourite Star Wars character there and she happily showed her house off to him. She saluted Vader and the troopers, made him a lightsaber from her craft table, and even had Vader and the troopers have a dance party with her. The morning was filled with magic, and as Vader would have said this day “…will be a day long remembered.”

Time on our planet is short. We all have pasts. Our past does not define us, but it can shape who we are today. If I can continue to create magic in people’s hearts, then when I leave this world I will have truly fulfilled my WHY.

 

Of Kendo, the Jedi, Lucasfilm and Snow Falling…

I was recently watching The Evolution of the Lightsaber Duel narrated by Mark Hamill. I was very happy that this special featured the art of Kendo – the fighting martial art of the Jedi order.

Karate was the martial art I first learned as a child. My mother put me in private lessons. It was during those primary lessons that I began to develop a love for Japanese Martial Arts. It was around this time that The Empire Strikes Back was in theatres, and it was the climactic duel in the movie that made me truly want to be a Jedi knight. I had no Idea what kind of swordplay I was watching, but I knew I had to learn whatever it was.

It was not until I went to University that I discovered there was a Kendo club there. My first Sensei was Ted Davis. He was an unassuming man, slight and not too tall. He wore the traditional clothing of the Kendo-ka – a dark blue hakama and keikogi. He stood majestically in his robes. It had been six years since I had taken karate, and now in my new school I became a dedicated student of Kendo under his mentorship.

The first several weeks I did not have the privilege to wear the robes I so desperately wanted to wear. I was a beginner and needed to learn the basics. Dutifully, three times a week I would go to the university rec centre and repeat the footwork so necessary to the art. Initially my feet bled over the hardwood floor as I developed calluses. My fingers blistered from holding my shinai (bamboo sword) too tight. I often left the dojo dripping in sweat and limping from the pain of my open wounds on the bottom of my feet. It was difficult. I was determined. I kept going back.

Eventually I was allowed to wear the uniform and eventually the armor of the serious kendo-ka. I learned how to fold my uniform properly to keep it pressed and to keep the pleats of the hakima straight. I was not only being disciplined in the techniques of Kendo, I was learning the respect for the techniques and the history of the art I was devoting myself to. We all took care of our uniforms. After class, no matter how tired we were, we would kneel and fold our uniforms properly and with the respect for our learning. We did not speak during this. We folded our uniforms in silence, allowing us to reflect on the lessons we had learned that night.

I have seen students of other martial arts show little respect for their attire. They practice in wrinkled, unwashed uniforms. I strongly believe this is not the student’s fault. It is the instructor who must take responsibility for the actions and inactions of their students.

Training in Kendo was an honour and a privilege for me. I had no idea that when I went to study in England that I would end up bringing my Kendo armor with me. I also had no idea that I would end up competing on the British Kendo Team. Kendo was providing me with many amazing opportunities. Since Kendo was the art of the Jedi, I readily took advantage of them. It was in Zurich that I competed and ranked internationally. I was taking full advantage of my abilities. I treated my teammates and opponents with respect. I allowed myself to breathe and to focus on my spirit within and through the shinai. Star Wars was never far from my mind. Our Sempai was an amazing Kendo-ka, Colin. He was fierce in tournament. He had four distinct scars – the result of an opponent’s blade breaking during a strike to the head, sending four sharp sections of bamboo into Colin’s face. It was lucky Colin did not get any thrust into his eyes. Yet, there remained the four memories of that event. Colin liked to make the younger teammates fearful. We all dreaded having to fight him during practice. It was impossible, or so we thought, to hit him at all. One night as Colin and I were in the middle of our free-practice we locked into Tai-Tari (a technique where two people come in body to body with each other) I could look straight into his eyes through our masks. He was focused and gazing through me. I could feel his energy pushing through. I looked straight back at him and said in my best Darth Vader voice, “I am your father, Luke”. Colin burst out laughing, and looked down – I took full advantage of this moment and delivered a decisive hit to the top of his head. I had done it. I had landed a point on the unbeatable Colin. My victory was short lived as Colin almost immediately returned a flurry of hits and worked me hard until I was exhausted, battered and bruised. He became a good friend of mine after that, and though I have not spoken to him since I left England, I will always remember his incredible prowess at my beloved martial art.

My first professional role in television was playing a character named Ned on Highlander. I was delighted to work with the famous fight director Bob Anderson. Bob had choreographed the fights for The Princess Bride and even more importantly The Empire Strikes Back. We spent a few days together working out the choreography for my fight scene with Adrian Paul. It was an amazing experience. The following year I was approached by F. Braun McAsh and asked if I could help him put together a fight scene for the producers of Highlander. I did and he got the job replacing Bob who had left to do more film work.

Eventually I decided to pursue a Master’s degree. I attended the same University as I had before, and spent time as a Sempai in my old Kendo club. Ted Davis was not instructing much at that point, but I enjoyed my sessions as a senior member of the club. At the end of my degree I received a phone call out of the blue from an old friend who was working with Kathleen Kennedy in Los Angeles. He asked me if I knew of anyone who could do Kendo. I thought he was pulling my leg. “Uhhhhh…me!” I replied. I had no idea that he was being asked to find a kendo choreographer for the film Snow Falling on Cedars. So a few months later I found myself creating the Kendo scenes for the film. I spent months working alongside Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Scott Hicks. I loved it. I earned my first film nickname on that set – Kendoboy. I had no idea that my love of Star Wars and Kendo would put me in such an amazing position.

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Scott Hicks with me (Kendoboyon the set of Snow Falling on Cedars

Kathleen Kennedy is now the head of Lucasfilm. I was happy to see the fights in the newest film were still had the essence of kendo. The prequels lacked the form that the Force Awakens has recaptured. Whenever I see someone holding a lightsaber with his or her hands in the wrong position I cringe. I am a lifelong student of kendo and understand the importance in the posture, technique and the ways of the sword. I love the speed and strength that Kendo offers. I miss competing in it. I really miss choreographing it. Perhaps one day I will be able to be in a filmed lightsaber fight. I would have never dreamt Kendo would lead to me being a top fight director. I had no idea that Kendo would have helped me find peace and happiness. I train so I don’t need to fight. I have learned to stand up for myself and to not have to fight. I am a student of Kendo and a Jedi. Kendo has trained my mind, body and spirit. Kendo has developed the force within me. I love sharing my knowledge with the future fighters in film. I truly love what I do.