As I grow older, I grow more repulsed by sports fighting. I have not even the slightest inclination to step into a ring or onto a mat and try and hurt someone until they give up or a referee says to stop. There is no sense, no purpose for the violence of blood and broken teeth and strained joints.
Last week I accidentally went along to a tournament sparring class in the wing chun school I’ve just joined. I strapped my gloves on like everyone else to see what their combat fighting style was like, and after a fun and sweaty workout, they invited me back next time. I politely agreed, knowing in my heart that I really had no desire to repeat the experience. Fun as it was, I left with bruises, scratches a worryingly sore (broken?) toe, and the deflated ego that comes from being punched all night long. It confused me greatly how some of the students who attended couldn’t get enough of ring fighting, and celebrated hurting other people to claim a victory.
I used to think that tournaments and competitions were good ways of seeing how you’d go fighting someone who was trying their best to hurt you. I figured that if you could beat a guy in the ring, it would mean you’d probably be able to beat a guy on “the street”. I’ve since realised that the rules of a sports match, and the aim of beating the other guy, are hardly at all applicable to self-defence.
While I was walking down the street with Beth, staggering somewhat due to quite a bit of stomach pain, my peripheral vision noticed someone hurrying towards us from behind. In a split moment, I realised that their pace and direction meant they were either about to barge between us, or they had some business with us. As I turned to face them, they reached a hand towards me and I brushed it aside with a soft hiki uke (hooking deflection), then shot my seiruto (palm strike) straight into their neck. For reasons I could not say, I did not actually strike but rested my palm on the man’s neck without putting any pressure into it. Then it clicked: he was one of my colleagues from work and had come to say hello.
More recently still, I was jogging with a friend, chatting as we approached our cars. I heard a sudden heavy footstep behind us and turned as a body blurred towards us. His arms moved towards me and I stepped back, executing a chopping backfast and a depressing palm strike in quick succession. He had swerved to avoid me too, pulling his arms back so that I didn’t need to deflect them. Then it clicked that he was my third, much fitter friend whom we had gone jogging with, whom we hadn’t seen in about half an hour as he tore off into the distance.
In both these instances I reacted defensively, and I think appropriately. (Admittedly I scared both the people who caught me off guard, however both of them found it funny and neither of them were hurt.) Those responses (not reflexes) might have served to keep me safe and well if indeed I had been under attack. I used to wonder if I really was good enough at martial arts to protect myself, and because tournaments weren’t the best way to find out, maybe I’d need to go into Northbridge and get into a fight and try and break someone’s arm or knock them unconscious. I never did, obviously, because that would have been stupid. However I did use to worry about it a lot, that maybe if push ever came to shove I would lose. I don’t worry about that any more.
Why? Is it because I think I’m hot stuff now that I’m a black belt? Well, kinda, yeah. More accurately, it’s because I trust that all of the thousands of hours I’ve put into grooving appropriate responses will be sufficient if the need ever arises for me to protect myself. Every now and then I’ll be surprised by what could be a potential attack and I’ll respond in a way that makes me feel like I would have been okay if there was any actual danger. I also get reminders from time to time that if a real attack had been imminent I would have gotten my head caved in. I think both of these are important, and it’s worth striving towards being safe and being peaceful.
I don’t mind people who enjoy the game or sport of competitive fighting. I just don’t feel like it will help me learn the sort of things I want to learn from martial arts. And also, I don’t particularly enjoy being beaten up, or even beating someone else up just to prove I could. That’s the arena of bullies.