Every once and again I start to think maybe I’ve taken this whole martial mindset a little too close to
“paranoia“. Unfortunately, I know some guys that I put into this category. They don’t just have a
couple of firearms, they have an arsenal. They don’t have locks on their doors; they have
bulletproof glass in Kevlar framed doors in steel mounts. They don’t have gun safes; they have
rooms built out of cinderblock with bank vault doors. They’ve lost their balance. Yeah, I know…
there’s that word again.
Then there are times that I have cause to bulk my own defenses up a bit. Something bad happens
a little too close to home, and being the compulsive buyer I am, suddenly find myself shopping for
something to make myself feel better.
My new folder arrived express mail the day before 19 month old Zane Jeremiah Pennington was
laid to rest in Carthage, MO. I pull the folder out of the box, remove the cover, and snap open the
blade. It fills my hand perfectly, the dark grey finish is offset by the copper liners seen through the
openings in the handle. The wicked point of the modified tanto has serrations in an area of the
blade that I’ve never seen them. On the right hand side of the blade is the CRKT logo. On the left
under the words “Lake Design” is the word “THUNDERBOLT”. It is as nice as any other folder that I
own. Big, beautiful, bad… just like I like them. I’ve worn it every day since it arrived, even in my
slacks-and-tie work attire. It’s a looker; but when I gaze at it, it’s technology and aesthetics will not
be at the forefront of my mind. Every time I look at it, I’ll remember buying it in the middle of a
sleepless night after hearing that my friend’s grandson was murdered.
Only a few days earlier I had been horrified by the news that this toddler had died at the hands of a
25 year old sociopath with a history of child abuse and molestation. As calls and emails spread
the word through the rest of the Kapitiran Mandirigma family, so did a mix of sorrow, anguish, and
rage. Zane’s grandfather is a man that I consider a brother as well as one of my instructors. Jeff
Sprawls is a man that I’m honored to be associated with… because I sure as hell wouldn’t want to
be on this guy’s bad side. Among other arts, Jeff is co-Grandmaster of the 5 Way Method, an
organization known as the “Wolfsgrin Martial Arts Confederacy”. Jeff has mad skills that he’s been
happy to share with members of the KM family, and although he’s far and away one of the coolest
guys I know, I shudder at the thought of what a thoroughly pissed-off version of this man could do.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are a number of high caliber players that have trained with Jeff and
Grandmaster Steve Todd in that area. They are all ferociously loyal to Jeff, his wife Marta, and to
each other. And there’s not a pansy in the bunch. They are the Rat Bastards, the Wolfpack, the
Ozark branch of the KM family. Every one of us trains with the backdrop that someday we may
need these skills to defend our family or friends. While we all cherish our training and our time
together, not one of us ever hopes that we need those skills in their full, lethal capacity. After all, if it
comes to that, something has gone terribly wrong.
Hearing the news that harm came to one of our own is almost unthinkable. Probably every modern
day warrior’s biggest fear is that if the threat comes to a loved one, we won’t be in the right place at
the right time. No amount of training, weaponry, preventive blockading and barricading is absolute;
there is always some measure of vulnerability and we all know it. We talk candidly about the
lunatics in our society and for the most part we think we’re prepared to deal with them. In most
cases, there are signs that we look for in a person that isn’t wired correctly. Most of my college
courses in Administration of Justice look to profile these nuts and assess why they turned out so
screwed up. Of all of the walking whack-jobs out there, the one I can’t (or maybe more correctly -
won’t) understand or tolerate is the child abuser. It’s bad enough when people prey on other full-
grown people. But how severely weak and twisted is a person that preys on someone with no
possible chance of defending themselves? How is it that someone can defile such an angelic
being? Don’t know, don’t care… as far as I’m concerned, extermination is the only cure I’m
Against my better judgment, I look up the story online. The vengeful side of me wants some
reassurance that this waste of flesh goes down hard and fast. The only comfort any of us take is
that in prison, this guy might as well be in hell. There are a lot of wicked people behind bars that
also carry the title of “father”, in fact some of them are there because of something they did in
defense of their children. This is not the kind of company you want to keep when they find out you
sexually abused and killed a toddler. If there is the tiniest silver lining in the events that are sure to
unfold, it will be that this son of a bitch will get beaten and molested on a regular basis, and that
none of us in the Wolfpack will be a suspect when it happens. I can only hope that our target’s cell
mate is some big friggin’ gorilla that really, really misses his kids. Oh, but wait… child molesters
don’t get to spend time in general population in prison. Who in the hell came up with that rule, and
why haven’t we revoked it yet? I’ll bring it up to the political candidate that knocks on my door.
Maybe I’ll show him the Thunderbolt and explain my position on the matter.
My judgment doesn’t improve - after I read the story I scroll down where folks can comment on the
story. There, things go from bad to worse. Everyone knows of my love of the media (not), and
letting the general population loose to express their opinion is a bad idea. (And no, this article
doesn’t qualify… if you’re on my website you were warned before you began reading it, and you
weren’t here for a news story). Some moronic woman has already started accusing the mother of
the child of knowing that this guy was doing this, and asking “what’s wrong with these mothers?”
and spewing her opines as though she has a clue. She doesn’t. And what’s worse, she’s
inconsiderate of those who are grieving the loss of this child. I read this hag’s comment three or
four times, incredulous of her audacity. This is why I don’t engage in blogs or respond to the
opinion columns in the newspapers; a great portion of the population literally makes me sick. None
of us have any right to speak about what happened because none of us know. The only witness
can’t testify; he is in God’s protective custody now. The mother's suffering has to be unimaginable,
and yet this witch attacks her in a blog. Reading this just makes me wonder if there is any good left
in the world, or at least why we seem so outnumbered at times.
It doesn’t take long for responses to the hag’s comment to show up from relatives and the martial
family. The mother’s sister responds back and makes it very clear how she feels about this person
even though it is largely censored on the blog. One of my martial brothers now residing in Florida
is slightly more calm but just as direct and to the point, sharing from the point of a law enforcement
officer. His wife’s post, which comes shortly afterwards, makes use of the censoring again. And
as we all circle our wagons in one form or another around the family in their time of need, my faith in
humanity is somewhat restored. My students paid dues early so that we could send a few dollars
help the family. It wasn’t much, but some chipped in a few extra bucks. I don’t have any students
that qualify as “rich“ in the monetary sense. A couple of inactive students even paid. My martial
“landlord” John Castillo has been discussing the financial strain of the school with me lately,
nevertheless he insisted that I send the rent I’d pay him to Jeff. He shared with me some wisdom
from his Jewish faith on the subject, and I was humbled. I have always respected John immensely,
more so than ever after this. Support for Jeff’s family comes from all over and lights up Facebook
as well. I feel better for them… for a moment anyway.
Knowing that the family has probably been on the phone nonstop since the very first news, I refrain
from calling Jeff and Marta until the weekend. I would not have bothered Jeff at all but I use the fact
that I need his correct mailing address as an excuse to check on him. The expected emotional
drain is evident in his tone, but I detect something else as well. Then after a few minutes of
conversation, Jeff tells me that they’ve had their first viewing of Zane, and that the signs of abuse
had not been completely covered. I am speechless. My friend is not only more angry and upset
than I have ever known him to be, but he’s in a place mentally that I cannot even bear to imagine.
Though his voice is restrained and calm I am sure it is with formidable effort. The lump in my throat
feels like a fist. My five year old son is sitting next to me as Jeff and I talk, and asks me if I’m OK.
The look on my face must say it all, but I nod to him. That night before I go to bed, I check the locks
on the doors, and then check the location of each firearm in the house. I have no idea why.
I am at work the day of the funeral, feeling guilty about not being there in Carthage to show support
firsthand. Truth is that I’ve been to funerals for children before, and they haunt me to this day.
Sending flowers to Zane’s funeral almost makes me feel chickenshit now. When I get home from
work, I look at the obituaries and notice that there is a news story about the first appearance in
court of the man accused of Zane’s death. It is a video of the guy “weeping openly” as the news
reported puts it while the judge reads off the charges. Weeping? Weeping?!?!? You gotta be
kidding me?! I’m not sure whether to laugh or scream. I start clicking on the related stories. The
guy, whom I’ll refer to as The Baker, is listed in the Texas Sexual Offender registry after having
sexually molested two girls in that state. Can't be true... how could nobody know? He had to
register, right? So how does he get to Kansas unscathed? His prior offenses were committed as
a minor, therefore he did not have to register as such in a different state. As an adult, The Baker
had been accused of sexually assaulting another child, but no charges were filed. And so, said
POS goes on merrily doing who-knows-what until he rapes and kills my friend’s grandson.
Murder, child abuse, aggravated sodomy. Of a 19 month old child by a 25 year old man. No
punishment exists on earth to fit this. I hope there is a hell and I hope it lives up to the hype.
In the meantime, the question persists as to what we do in the wake of this tragedy? The mission
becomes multifaceted. The first of course is to honor Zane Pennington and do something
monumental in an effort to raise awareness about child abuse. This was Marta’s suggestion, to
have a group of martial artists aligned for this cause. What this organization will be called and what
they’ll do is still being discussed; but Zane's name will become a call-to-arms against this type of
crime. Aside from this, we must be there for the family as they now have to deal with the matters of
court appearances that hopefully will put this monster under lock and key. I really can’t fathom
being in the same room with someone that has done this to a family member.
And if by some miracle the justice system should fail to prevail … well, I can’t see anyone coming to
the rescue of The Baker. The official report may read “devoured by wolves”…
Or maybe “struck down by a Thunderbolt…” It is probably the only way I’d be willing to part with the
copper-lined metallic grey beauty. The knife I bought when I learned that a friend’s family had fallen
victim to a monster, reminding me that I am far from paranoid. I will think about this wonderful little
boy whom I never had the pleasure of meeting every time I handle this weapon.
Rest in peace, Zane Jeremiah Pennington.
"There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child.
Things never get back to the way they were."
Dwight D. Eisenhower