Martial Arts Reality Check

This post needs some background before I come to the martial arts stuff, so bear with me…

This weekend, I attended my brother-in-law’s wedding. He married a beautiful bride and they had a great day. The wedding party went on until early morning and everybody had a great time. Especially me because I:

  • Got to do my imitation of the Will & Carlton dance with everybody watching. The roar of laughter that followed must mean my performance was good enough. (I choose not to consider any other possibilities, thank you very much…)
  • Didn’t have to drive so I could drink a bit more than usual.
  • As a result of the previous bullet, I danced even sillier than usual. Which resulted in people laughing very, very hard. Which only egged me on to bust some more dance moves. And so on.
  • Inhaled helium and spoke in a funny voice, along with a few other people. They were a lot funnier than me but we still laughed so hard somebody actually fell from a chair.
  • Got to slow-dance with my beautiful lady on a huge dance floor. Lots more fun than dancing in the kitchen or living room like we usually do.
  • Was surrounded by people who are close to me for the entire day and we all had a great time together.

Anyway, I had a blast. In fact, it’s been a long time since I was able to kick back and relax like that. After so many years of working on awareness and prevention, I don’t feel at ease anymore in a crowd. Particularly when there’s a lot of alcohol involved, which was the case here. Simply because there’s such a high potential for violence in these circumstances. It usually goes something like:

  • One drunk spills his beer over another and the fight is on.
  • Somebody eyes another guy’s woman (or the guy thinks she’s being eyeballed) and fists start flying.
  • You’re having way too much fun for some people so they decide to fuck up your day by picking a fight.

And I’m not even mentioning pickpockets, gangs or other criminals. Go to any big public gathering and they’re bound to be there too.

But at this wedding, it was invitation only and there were no assholes among the guests. Even the wildest drunk didn’t come close to needing to be calmed down. And party-crashers couldn’t sneak up on us; I’d have spotted them long before they even came close to me. So I got to relax, let down my guard and just have a blazing good time.¬† A rare occasion for me.

For the record, when we left and went to the parking lot, I cranked up the awareness and prepared for trouble. I know when it’s time to have fun bit also when that time has passed… :-)

What’s the point, dude?

The point is: every now and then, you need to do a reality check.

In my opinion, and also my experience, people in the martial arts and self defense community are very bad at this. In fact, I’ll raise my hand right now and confess to be a big sinner in this regard. I’m so involved and fascinated by everything concerning¬† martial arts, self defense and training for these two that I sometimes lose perspective.

The correct perspective is that, as far as I know, nobody is actively trying to kill me. This means I’m not in danger of a violent death while I’m typing this blog post. Following this logic, the only danger for violence is random violence. Random violence means:

  • I go to a store and it gets robbed. This can happen to anybody, it’s just your bad luck that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Remember the pickpocket story? Shit happens.
  • I walk around in public and a street thug or criminal picks me as his victim. Again, it can happen to anybody.
  • I get involved in social violence. This means drunks accosting me, young bucks trying to prove themselves by mouthing off to me, etc. Again, perfectly reasonable that this could happen.
  • Mr. Murphy takes me down. I’m not going to worry about buildings crushing me in an earthquake or terrorists blowing up my apartment. There are limits to how far I’ll take my awareness where I live; Belgium is not Afghanistan, though its politicians could probably be swapped with ease and without an observable difference. :-)

There are loads more scenarios but you get the drift.

Here’s the thing, for each of the first three bullets, there is a lot I can do to prevent that violent death from happening to me. In order:

  • My awareness goes up when I go to a store. A while ago, the supermarket ten min. from my place, the one I sometimes shop at, got robbed by three guys wielding Uzi’s. Stores get robbed, period. But you have to shop somewhere. So during my shopping, I pay attention and the moment I spot firearms, I’ll hit the deck and try to crawl to the back. Failing that, I’ll obey the commands from the robbers. Why? Because I live in a country where I’m not allowed to carry weapons and I don’t have a big “S” logo on my chest. Until I do, I’m not going up against three guys with machine guns. I really don’ think how hard my leg kick is makes any difference in such a situation. Or any other unarmed technique for that matter…
  • Public places = awareness up, radar constantly pinging. A vast majority of violence can be avoided by spotting trouble before it can escalate. This takes knowledge and training but it can most certainly be done.
  • It’s not worth it to me. Social violence is just not worth my time, energy or the potential consequences. Sure, there are certain buttons you can push on me and it’ll piss me off. I’m just like everybody else. But I’ll do my damn best to walk away first. So call me a motherfucking buttmuncher if it makes you feel better. I’ll just go home and laugh while I walk away to something you’re missing: a life.

The common thread in all of the above solutions is that it takes work on your part. Prevention, awareness, walking away, these are acquired skills. They don’t come naturally, unless you grew up or live in a violent society, a place where violence is an every day occurrence. In such an environment, you learn these skills real fast or you don’t make it out alive. But for the most of us, that’s not the case.

So we practice and practice until these skills become second nature and they’re “On” all the time. Train for a bit longer still and you don’t know how to turn them “Off” anymore…

Maybe it's time for another one of these?

Armageddon isn’t here just yet.

Which brings me back to my original point: take a reality check every now and then. Like me at the party, you too can relax from time to time. Chances are that as you’re reading this post:

  • Nobody is trying to kill you either.
  • You’re not being molested in some dark alley.
  • There isn’t a horde of ninjas jumping out of the shadows to slice you to pieces.

All of this could happen later, when you step away from your computer screen and go outside. But right now, you’re probably fine. And there are other moments and places when/where you’re fine too. But if you get too wrapped up in a self-defense or martial arts mindset, you no longer recognize them when they present themselves. Then they pass you by, which is a crying shame.

If enough of these pass you by, the only thing you’ll do in your life is work and be on the lookout for potential violence. Okay, that’s stretching things a bit but you get what I mean:

Life is to be lived. Self defense, martial arts, they’re supposed to help you live your life, not replace it.

My reality check reminded me of that once again. So while I’ll still try to prevent and avoid violence as much as I can, I renewed my goal of living a full and rewarding life. Accordingly, I’ve planned my next care-free, funfunfun,I-m-gonna-have-a-blast, moments already.

How about you?

UPDATE: In part Two of Martial Arts Reality Check, I talk about another aspect to checking if you’re still on track with your training. .

Comments

  1. shugyosha says:

    Wim,

    I’m not being mean, but martial artists are the very model of a modern… er… very grounded when compared to some other fandoms. Although MA+manga are… no so much so.

    This said, I have to agree with the rest. If only because if the world goes downhill, the less paran… prepared the rest of you are, the lesser the competition.

    No, seriously: good points. I like… Marc’s? Rory’s? definition of self-defense. That which helps you keep your lifestyle. Hyper-alertness is soul-destroying.

  2. shugyosha says:

    Wim,

    I’m not being mean, but martial artists are the very model of a modern… er… very grounded when compared to some other fandoms. Although MA+manga are… no so much so.

    This said, I have to agree with the rest. If only because if the world goes downhill, the less paran… prepared the rest of you are, the lesser the competition.

    No, seriously: good points. I like… Marc’s? Rory’s? definition of self-defense. That which helps you keep your lifestyle. Hyper-alertness is soul-destroying.

  3. Awesome insight. Very hard to do for a lot of us, but something we should all strive to do now and then, it recharges you. Nice post

  4. Awesome insight. Very hard to do for a lot of us, but something we should all strive to do now and then, it recharges you. Nice post

  5. Master Funakoshi said “when you go out a 1000 foes await you” sounds kind of paranoid .
    I think what he was implying was that if you go about acting like an”it’s all about me” asshole one of those “1000” is going to take offense and do his/their best to convince you other wise.

  6. Well said, very well said.

  7. Well said, very well said.

  8. Hey Wim,

    When I was in college I remember a guy saying that his Astronomy and Geology class ruined him… his logic was when he was vacationing in the desert – he would always be looking up and down! :)

    Yes blogging/working out in martial arts can increase the what would I do if that guy tried something factor – but over the years I’ve gotten out of that mostly as I feel safe most of the time (I don’t hang out in dive bars anymore).

    Still I check around corners when walking – even in the office… I guess I’m ruined for life too… :)

    Good post.

  9. Hey Wim,

    When I was in college I remember a guy saying that his Astronomy and Geology class ruined him… his logic was when he was vacationing in the desert – he would always be looking up and down! :)

    Yes blogging/working out in martial arts can increase the what would I do if that guy tried something factor – but over the years I’ve gotten out of that mostly as I feel safe most of the time (I don’t hang out in dive bars anymore).

    Still I check around corners when walking – even in the office… I guess I’m ruined for life too… :)

    Good post.

  10. I am the only one wondering when the video of you dancing to “jump on it” will be up? ;)

  11. I am the only one wondering when the video of you dancing to “jump on it” will be up? ;)

  12. Great post. I totally agree there has to be a balance. In different places, and at different times, I’m switched on to different degrees.

    Keep up the great postings!

  13. Great post. I totally agree there has to be a balance. In different places, and at different times, I’m switched on to different degrees.

    Keep up the great postings!

  14. Hi,

    It’s a very good point. So good, fresh and real that I’m speaking about this post on my blog. Feel free to have a look if you want (http://www.fightsinthestreet.com/martial-arts-are-not-made-to-make-you-mad-or-paranoid-all-day-long/)

    In my opinion, If we do a martial art, the very first step is to built our inner wisdom before being over-technical.

    Simple to say but not easy to do.. but this is the first step for a good practice and for a real peace of mind. After that you can master what you want and have a “great” attitude for you and for the people around you.

    Matt.

  15. Hi,

    It’s a very good point. So good, fresh and real that I’m speaking about this post on my blog. Feel free to have a look if you want (http://www.fightsinthestreet.com/martial-arts-are-not-made-to-make-you-mad-or-paranoid-all-day-long/)

    In my opinion, If we do a martial art, the very first step is to built our inner wisdom before being over-technical.

    Simple to say but not easy to do.. but this is the first step for a good practice and for a real peace of mind. After that you can master what you want and have a “great” attitude for you and for the people around you.

    Matt.

  16. Great post, Wim! I think too many “MA people” lose sight of the fact that a team of assassins isn’t constantly trying to take them down. Don’t get me wrong, I key up the awareness in certain situations (especially when I’m travelling abroad), but its not healthy to be in a constant state of hyper-vigilance.

    And you’re not the only one who can do a good Will and Carlton dance. ;-) hahaha

  17. Great post, Wim! I think too many “MA people” lose sight of the fact that a team of assassins isn’t constantly trying to take them down. Don’t get me wrong, I key up the awareness in certain situations (especially when I’m travelling abroad), but its not healthy to be in a constant state of hyper-vigilance.

    And you’re not the only one who can do a good Will and Carlton dance. ;-) hahaha

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