Fighting: Advice from a Martial Artist

I’ve been practicing the martial arts for a long time. In over ten years of study (some of which I was training five or six days a week), I have learned many lessons, and there is one in particular that I want to share with you.

There is a persistent but unspoken assumption that being good at fighting is really cool. Since I was about thirteen years old I would choreograph fights in my head. Some guy would insult me and I would stand up to him, and he’d throw this kind of attack and I’d respond with that kind of attack, and I’d look so cool as I totally owned him. The scenarios I projected were endless, but every single day, usually several times a day for about six years, I would plot out elaborate fights that always resulted in me spectacularly dominating and defeating my challengers. I had every confidence in my level of skill, and when I started learning Taekwondo this confidence skyrocketed. I would walk around school practicing my head-high kicks, and I tried to build a reputation for myself as the guy not to mess with because he could spectacularly hurt you if you crossed him.

Picture 1

At my Taekwondo black belt grading when I was 16

But that all changed when I had to defend myself for real. Now keep in mind I’ve done a hell of a lot of training, and I’m a very competent fighter. But one day a couple that I kind of knew was having an argument, and things were getting out of hand. The guy was being really scary, grabbing his girlfriend and threatening to hurt her, so I stepped between them and told him to cut it out. The next thing I knew was that he had put a knife to my throat.

It turned out okay in the end because he wasn’t seriously trying to hurt me, he was just showing his dominance. As I stood there, I thought of how I could break his knees and stab him with his knife and “look really cool”. But let me make this very clear. There is nothing glorious about someone trying to hurt you. It is scary. It is really fucking scary. No matter how much training and experience you have, when someone is doing everything in their power to cripple you, there’s nothing cool about it. Yeah you might be able to defend yourself and hurt them in return, but it doesn’t make you feel any better about someone hating you so much they tried their hardest to cause you grievous injury.

In the end I didn’t need to resort to violence at all to escape that encounter unharmed. I practiced self defence: I did not take any unnecessary actions because I did not feel like I was at risk (despite his threats). I didn’t need to cripple him to protect myself, and I didn’t need to prove I was better than him or to punish him for daring to threaten me. And if I could restrain from using violence with weapons pointed at me, I certainly wouldn’t hit someone for insulting my mother, or shoving me in the chest.

Violence is the crudest and most destructive solution to any conflict. If a fight is forced upon you, it is not something to enjoy or brag about, but something horrible to regret because it couldn’t be avoided.

BSA_riot_FA_pathThere is no victor in any fight. Either you get hurt, or someone else gets hurt, and in my books that’s a lose-lose scenario. Nobody deserves to get beaten up so someone can say “I’m right and you’re wrong”, or “My reputation is more important than your health”. Fighting doesn’t prove you’re right about an issue, or that you’re stronger than someone else – it proves that you’re able to beat up people who are weaker than you.

To the martial artists out there, do what you do because you love it, not because you enjoy dominating others. The martial arts are arts. Any thug who goes to the gym can have a strong body, but what truly distinguishes a warrior is not their ability to win a fight, but their devoted effort to improving themselves.

My teacher, demonstrating betterment of character through meditation

My teacher, demonstrating betterment of character through meditation

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