OK, the title may sound a bit bizarre, but bare with me and all will become clear. I hope.
Why is it that although martial arts are supposed to make us better, calmer, more relaxed people; that some of us actually enjoy practicing violent applications that can hurt, maim or possibly kill another human being? Is it some deep down psychopathic instinct that some of us just can’t overcome?
The fact that some of us enjoy practicing the violent applications does not mean that we are violent people. However, to enjoy practicing them and to be able to apply them effectively, one must be able to dig down into the darker part of our human nature. We must delve into that part of us that is prepared to hurt, cripple and destroy another human being. This is what I (tongue in cheek) loosely refer to as “turning to the dark side”.
I must emphasise that there is an enormous difference between being prepared to harm another human being (depending on circumstances) and wanting to harm another human being.
So why, when we are striving to become better people, do we actively look to engage and develop this “dark side” of our human nature?
Firstly, whether you are religious or not, Western society is dominated by Christian values and doctrine. As such, so much of our behaviour is considered right and wrong, good and evil. Basically it is a culture of opposites, you must be one or the other. However, Eastern philosophies and even our own pre-Christian Pagan philosophies would often see things more as two sides of the same coin rather than opposites. A balance. Yin and Yang.
By engaging the “dark side” of our nature, we are actually more able to avoid confrontations by our outer confidence, as well as being more able to help others in distress. To quote from Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”. The flip side is that you cannot assume the great responsibility if you do not have the great power. Spiderman’s ability to help and save people in danger (light side) came from his enormous strength and his ability to beat the living s**t out of the bad guys (dark side).
Now I’m not suggesting that we will become superhero’s by practicing martial arts and save people from marauding villains. However, along with our increased ability to defend ourselves (do violence to some b******d that seriously deserves it) comes a special kind of confidence. A confidence which ironically will sometimes allows us handle situations more assertively, so that we actually don’t have to resort to violence.
When training in the nastier applications, even in a friendly environment, many people still find it difficult to delve into that dark part of their nature and hence find it more difficult to make the applications work properly. As a youth, I was very timid, so I’ve been there. Now at 40 something years old and with years of Karate training, it comes much more naturally to me.
For somebody who is (for want of a better word) “timid” or uncomfortable with these applications, I would like to make some suggestions. When you look at a thug trying to intimidate someone, there is a big display of “peacocking”, sticking their chest out like Dolly Parton, jutting their head forward, arms loose from the sides like a cowboy about to go for his gun. That part is not too important. What is more important is that typically they invade the other persons personal space to intimidate and emotionally control them. The victim will typically respond by drawing back, pulling their arms into their body and making their own personal space as small as possible. This is actually quite a key tactic that thugs use instinctively. Why? Because it’s effective.
When practicing self defence techniques, experienced martial artists will happily move into their training partners space; whilst the more timid people will tend to pull back. It is because the more timid person wants to get away, whereas the more experienced person will seek to take control (just like the thug/victim scenario above).
Using a bunkai/Chi-na example, imagine an “attacker” grabs the “defenders” wrist with a cross grab (right hand to right wrist – or left to left). The defender traps the attackers grabbing hand with their own free hand, then moves both hands in a circle to apply the lock. The more confident “defenders” move slightly forward as they perform the technique, circling their hand near to the attackers body. This locks both the “attackers” elbow and wrist at right angles, making the lock easy to apply. The more timid people tend to perform the technique by circling their hands much closer to their own body. This resulted in both the “attackers” elbow and wrist not quite reaching the 90 angles and the lock being more difficult to apply.
The “victim” way of thinking, is simply to pull back and escape. It makes the self defence techniques more difficult to apply and less effective. I would suggest to anybody struggling with this, is that you have to think “control” before you think “escape”. If you escape, but have not put your opponent out of action, they will simply chase you. Think like the street thug, go into your opponent’s personal space and control them. Then your escape will be much easier.
Having said that, how does a small or timid person actually manage to access that “dark side”, in order to move in and control somebody? How do you turn your fear, dread and longing to escape into the will to move in and take control of somebody who is bigger, stronger and intent on hurting you?
Well if I can focus on women here for a minute, they are often told, “imagine somebody is going to rape you”. I would respectfully suggest that this can be a bit counter-productive as any woman faced with a would-be rapist is just going to want to get away even more, rather than to invade his personal space and get closer; which unfortunately is what is required for many self defence techniques. I would suggest a different image. Imagine that your child (or niece, nephew, friends child) is in danger and you are the only one there to protect that child. Now you have to go in rather than run away. Nothing in the world is more ferocious than a Mama bear when somebody messes with her cubs. To learn self defence against bigger, stronger men, sometimes you have to bring out the “Mama bear” in a woman. Even professional burglars will avoid breaking into houses with kids, because they know that mothers will fight to the death to protect a child.
As much as your instinct may tell you to draw back, escape and run away when you are threatened, you may need to disable your opponent before you can run so that they don’t run after you. That means you have to find your dark spot inside your soul, you have to access your inner “Mama bear” and you have to be prepared to go into your opponent before you go out. And as mentioned above, training like this leads to confidence, which leads to assertiveness, which in turn can defuses a situation before it kicks off.
Although many senior instructors are very proficient in their martial applications, you can see by the way that they teach their students that many of them have a very nurturing and caring side to their natures. Despite years of Karate training, I consider myself to be a very gentle person. Some people may consider this to be contradictory. Those who have trained for many years will consider it a natural consequence of our training. That’s the paradox. These traits are not opposites, they are the balance. The Yin and Yang.
All martial methods come with a code. The knights of old had their chivalry, to protect the weak. The ancient Samurai would sacrifice themselves without question for their master or their masters family.
Many of today’s martial arts from Japan and Korea end in “Do” (Judo, Kendo, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, No Can Do etc). The “Do” means “way”. And by “way”, they mean a way to self development, self improvement and even self enlightenment.
All of these codes mean that although the individual develops fighting skills which can potentially destroy other human beings, they are better people and better members of their society. One might argue about the brutality of the Samurai (who would not hesitate to kill women and children of an enemy clan), but in the society that they lived in, unquestioning loyalty and total obedience was expected. They were therefore, very good members of their society. In today’s society, the “Do” expects you to be a more altruist and caring person.
It is the balance.