Into the lion’s den…

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Had to pick up some stuff from someone. This someone was at the core of the troubles that got me to start this blog. (For some really angsty stuff, read the first couple of posts.) I survived intact. Lots to say, no time to say it. Probably a good thing.

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4 Differences Between Martial Arts and Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

Lots of people associate martial arts with self-defense, and for good reason. Many schools advertise as teaching “self-defense” whether they actually teach self-defense or martial arts. There is a societal link between the two that has become so strong, that the two are often used interchangeably. Unfortunately this can cause, and has caused, problems. There are many differences, of which I’ll discuss four.

1. Realism in Techniques. No matter how “realistic” a particular school teaches its techniques, there are boundaries which are not crossed. I have yet to see a martial arts school that actually allows, much less encourages, techniques to be practiced as they would actually be used. If they did, they would have to allow at least six weeks between classes so that broken bones had time to heal, at the very least. What about eye gouges or strikes to the throat? Needless to say, in order for a student to learn, the techniques have to be pulled and carefully controlled. There is nothing wrong with this. What is often missing, though, is the realization that the techniques are *purposefully* made less effective in order for students to practice them. Too often what happens when a technique is needed is the student performs as they did in class…and stops short of actually harming their attacker.

2. Pain. Many techniques are based on pain, or–even worse–the assumption of pain. A broken nose will not stop an attacker. When an attack happens, a cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline hits the system. Many techniques that are based on causing pain won’t even be felt. This is not something that comes out in class because, even if a student has some adrenaline in the system, the amount is not even close to how much will be in the system during an attack. As such, pain-based techniques performed consistently and effectively in class rarely, if ever, work when you actually need them.

3. Purpose. Many schools try to sell martial arts as self-defense. This is far from the truth. If you break down the phrase “martial arts”, you come up with “the arts of war.” So how is this different from self-defense? As the name implies, the purpose of martial arts is eliminating the enemy. As much as a student may learn and change internally, mentally or emotionally, the expression of a martial art is always expressed on an outside target. Self-defense, on the other hand, is about keeping yourself safe. Rather than eliminating an enemy, the purpose of self-defense is to make sure that you continue living. The common protest to this viewpoint is that eliminating an enemy and keeping yourself safe are two sides of the same coin. In some cases, this may be true. However, if you’re at the point where the only way to keep yourself safe is by eliminating the enemy, you’ve already missed several opportunities to avoid such a risky situation. This is why I say that self-defense is an attitude.

4. Location. Most likely you will not need to ever use your physical self-defense techniques, but if you do, the chances of it happening in a martial arts school are exceedingly small. As such you probably will not have the amount of space you’re used to moving in, nor will the space you do have be conducive to the techniques you learned. Barring mental instability, most attackers are going to make sure they hold as many advantages as possible, and that you hold as many disadvantages as possible. One of the unmentioned assumptions in most martial arts schools is that the training area is a realistic representation of the places you’re likely to need to use what you learn. I say this assumption is “unmentioned” because most people don’t even realize they’re making it. When said outright, the fallacy is obvious. I can count the number of times it’s actually been said to me on one hand.

It may sound like I’m bashing martial arts. I’m not. What I’m trying to do is draw a line between martial arts and self-defense. Martial arts can be useful in many types of situations, including self-defense. Saying martial arts and self-defense are the same thing shortchanges the potentials of martial arts and limits the concept of self-defense.

I Have Had Enough!

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“Self-righteousness is the root of all bad behavior.” –Meg Barnhouse

And the words of meditation just keep on coming. This weeks words that came to me during the meditation time seems to invoke the unseen strength everyone feels from time to time.

May this flame of a single, fragile point
Join the wall of fire
And forever burn
In friendship and love and hope.

May this flame upon a tiny candle
Be strong enough to light my way
Through turbulent darkness
And bring others with me.

May this flame of delicate light
Shine endlessly in the storm
That I may help others
When they reach for shelter.

Today’s sermon topic was “enoughness”, a Quaker concept of balancing lack with acquisition. With such a topic, one would expect the sermon to boil down to: “Seek moderation, stop buying what you don’t need, and be content with what you have.” But no. We are Unitarian Universalists. Our sermons are never that easy. “Enough” is a concept that varies from person to person. How much is “enough”? How can you tell too little from too much? These are questions that everyone needs to answer for themselves.

What “enough” is not is complacency, apathy, neutrality. Enough is the balance each person must find in order to put forth the appropriate amount of effort. Enough provides both a motivation and a solid foundation from which to act. Enough is the amount of action necessary to achieve a goal…however much that might be and whatever the goal is. Enough is a solid center a person can rely on without being smothered with a surfeit. I am reminded of a quote from Marry Poppins: “Enough is as good as a feast.”

As my words of meditation may indicate, there are some things I have had enough of. I have had enough of darkness. I have had enough of pain. I have had enough of doubt. I have had enough of the storm. I say this not as a frustrated cry. I do not regret what I’ve been through. I see it as a necessary series of events. When I say, “I have had enough!” it is a simple statement of “enoughness.” I have no wish to enter the danger of wallowing in pain and doubt and darkness, so I say, “No thanks. I have had enough.”

A last, desperate attempt to avert catastrophe.

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“I wanted to destroy something beautiful.” –Fight Club

Why does anger so often result in hurting others? And usually ends up hurting yourself, too? I don’t know. Yet, I’ve sustained a high level of anger for too long, and I’m starting to understand. I hate being angry, how it makes me think, how it makes me view the world. It is not a pleasant feeling, yet it is better than the soul-tearing pain it masks.

The tearing of a soul requires answer, requires justification. When there is none, through the inattention of others, especially those who caused it, a release must be found. While emotions cannot be weighed and measured, nonetheless a torn soul requires balancing. Lashing out randomly can ease the pressure somewhat, but when the soul is torn, only bringing the person or persons viewed as responsible to a similar state can truly balance the emotions. At least that is what if feels like.

It is the desire to stop the cause of the pain that drives the soul-torn to anger, because anger is an active emotion. Many people finds it lends them energy and strength. And yet, look at what purposes that energy and strength are often used. Look at the consequences. Lives ruined or ended. Stability overturned. The growth of hatred.

Pain is a passive emotion. It is something you feel when something is done to you. It is viewed as non-constructive, and yet it is always there, hovering at the edges of awareness. People go to great lengths to avoid pain. They tell themselves stories so that they don’t have to experience it. They take risks or throw themselves into round after round of social activity to distract themselves.

Yet in the long run, there are ways to use pain constructively. But in order to do so, you have to live through it, suffer through it, and not let anger take control. In the past, I’ve used my pain to make connections with people on a level many of them don’t understand. It is my pain that gives me the aura of sincerity and gravitas others have remarked on. And right now, I am so sincere that I may as well be on my death bed, I have so much gravitas I might as well be a black hole.

So why am I writing this? Not to attack. Not to whine. It is a last, desperate attempt to avert catastrophe. One last chance to keep from sliding into an anger so deep, I burn bridges I do not want to burn. I do not want to go there, it is not remotely tempting. Yet I feel myself being pulled in. Starting slowly and quickly gaining speed. I see the door at the end of a greased hall, and I know that as soon as I pass through it, it will shut. Forever. And with its shutting, cause a terrifying amount of pain and devastation…and I would be its instrument. I am afraid.