Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Martial Training Conundrum

*This post is may be considered offense to some people. I am merely thinking out loud and trying to work through and understand some aspects of society and culture as opposed to martial training.*

I have lived in a few different parts of the country and traveled to lots of them. I haven't yet had a chance to explore other countries but I am working towards this goal. One thing I can be certain of is that culture is very different from place to place, even within the United States.

Miller said in the seminar that violence happens in specific places, one of which being a place where we don't understand the rules or the culture. Now, this wasn't necessarily a violent encounter, but it is something that happened in a place I was not familiar with. What I am having trouble understanding is if the rules were different here, or if it is just because there is an epidemic of rudeness in our country right now.

(I know people like Charles James mention rudeness and the power of words and Rory Miller have mentioned things like cultural differences, in their blogs.)

Anyway, so the situation is this. My mom and I stop at a Jack in the Box off the interstate to grab a bite to eat. Its near the highway and the closest thing around and we are starving. So we pull off and head in, because we're tired of being in the car. The place is mostly empty. There is one person ahead of us in line. So we order and sit down to wait for our number to be called.

Then the lunch rush hits, or something, because all of a sudden the place is packed. The lobby is very small and there aren't enough tables. People are giving mom and I some strange and dirty looks. We're not sure why. We're sitting quietly, minding our own business. We are clearly waiting on our food and everyone else is in line, no one is sitting down yet. Eventually it becomes so uncomfortable mom and I consider just taking our food and go eat in the car when they call our number. I decide to run the restroom so we can be ready to leave if that's what mom wants to do.

It figures, the second I run to the bathroom, they call our number. Mom doesn't want to leave her purse at the table, so she takes it with her to get our food. She comes back and some guy and some of his group sitting at our table. He's with a large group and they have several kids with them.

Mom said, "Oh... my daughter and I were just getting our food, thanks for taking our seats..." Or something like that. Either way, she wasn't rude. My mom isn't the type who is rude or aggressive up front. She might get upset and rant about it later but she tries pretty hard to be kind to people. The guy looks at my mom, right in front of all the kids and everyone in the restaurant and says loudly, "YOU'RE FUCKING WELCOME."

This, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable. If I hadn't been in the bathroom, I would have said something. I came out and mom was standing by the trash can trying to hold the tray and her drink and purse and all that. So we took our food and left, she didn't tell me till we got in the car what happened.

Now... here is the conundrum. I wanted very badly to go back in there and kick that guys ass. Obviously I don't have the skills to do it yet but I really wanted to anyway. It's not ok to talk to anyone like that. Especially someone's mom. However, as Martial Artists just, because we can kick someone's ass doesn't mean we should, even if they deserve it, right? (I know that at this point Charles James will link me some things on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense.)

I expect most people to say, "Of course, just because you can doesn't mean you should." I want to know: why not? Why is it not ok to use your skills to stand up for yourself??? Granted, all this guy did was snap at my mom, which doesn't necessarily warrant a punch in the face. But let's consider some other scenarios:

Why is it as Martial Artists we train and train, but we're not allowed to use our abilities unless it is a life or death struggle? This is honestly something I have always struggled with. Maybe I will be more at peace with this as I progress in my studies, but I do not understand why it is not ok to put people in their place if they deserve it. If someone tries to mug me, why can't I break his kneecaps to discourage him from doing it to anyone else? If someone is a bully, why do they just get to get away with it? If someone tries to rape me, why am I expected to run away and let the law deal with it? If he has a good attorney, he'll just get off with a slap on the wrist and will probably do it to someone else.

Yes, I understand the only fight you are guaranteed to win is the one you never have, and how do you really distinguish between when someone deserves a punch in the nose or not, how do you keep yourself from becoming the bully, etc etc etc. I know all this sounds ridiculous coming from me, who has not much experience with violence. I'm sure people like Miller and MacYoung and Wilder will tell me they really hope I never get into a fight, because they are not fun, they are messy, brutal, awful affairs.

I'm sure its safer for people in the long run if we don't have violence running rampant through our streets. (Except, the other day in Joplin, I saw two guys get out of their car at a stoplight and proceed to have a fist fight right in the middle of the street... so... on some level whether we like it or not, violence is going to happen anyway)

But I still just don't get why it isn't ok? If I were better with my skills, why couldn't I have used Aiki to make this jerk stand up and move so mom could have her seat back? Why does that make me the bad guy? (At least in the eyes of the justice system)

Maybe people would be a little more polite and respectful to each other if they didn't think they could get away with being a complete ass hole to everyone all the time? "If I say something incredibly rude to him, or behave in this inappropriate manner, he/she could haul off and knock my teeth out. Hmm... maybe I better not say/do that..."

Does this make any sense to anyone else? Am I alone in thinking that maybe Hammurabi's code "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" wasn't such a bad idea? (Some of his other laws were pretty harsh, and most of them involved putting someone to death, but this one seems to make sense to me. You reap what you sow. Karma and all that.) I don't believe Martial Artists should go around looking for fights. I do not approve of this behavior at all. But if someone starts it, if they make the first move, why can't we finish it?

Why do we have to just stand by and allow people to treat each other like dirt or hurt each other and get away with it? This doesn't seem right to me. I don't care if it's not my business or not, if you are hitting your girlfriend in public while I am watching, or screaming at the cashier while I am in line behind you, or  stealing from someone while I am a in the same parking lot, then it is my business and it is my human/moral/ethical obligation to help. For me, in most cases, that would probably mean calling the police. If some guy is beating his girlfriend at the park, or I see someone down an alley way attacking/mugging/raping someone else I am not going to walk by and pretend I didn't see it, I will call the police. I would want someone to do the same for me. If some dude is screaming at a cashier, I would say something. I have worked retail. We're people too and you do not have the right to treat us like trash because you are having a bad day. Not enough people stand up for each other in those kinds of situations, and it sickens me that someone can come into a place of business, scream and throw a fit, and be rewarded for their behavior with apologies and coupons from managers.

This whole dynamic is just so confusing to me. You train and train with the understanding and the expectation that you will never have to use your skills. I really would like to think there is more to it than just my monkey brain seeking to do the monkey dance. This isn't about having something to prove. This is about human decency. When you were little and you misbehaved, you were reprimanded, right? I got spanked, or had my mouth washed out with soap, or sent to time out, or stood in the corner, or grounded, etc. The punishment always fit the crime, but I always knew there was a certain way to behave and that it was not ok to treat people a certain way. So why is it when we grow up, we're suddenly exempt from punishment and repercussions from our actions? Why is anyone who tries to curb or adjust your snobby attitude considered the bad guy? (again, I am speaking from what I expect the legal stand point would be. I'm guess if you go to court and say, "Well, Judge. I just don't believe in bullying. Someone had to put a stop to it, so I punched him in the face." You'll be the one who winds up with a fine or in jail.)

This is such a complex topic and there is a lot more that I could say/ask. But I think this post is long enough and I am talking myself in circles at this point.

I am open to hearing thoughts and opinions from others on the subject, especially anyone with martial arts experience and/or experience with violence. Dialogue is encouraged, I really want to know what other people think, but I do not want to start an argument, so if you comment, do not attack anyone's thoughts or beliefs or comments, I will remove your comment. What I have written are mostly my thoughts, considerations and questions on a very broad subject that is very gray in terms of right and wrong. I do not claim to be right or wrong, nor to have any of the answers. I am merely seeking understanding.


  1. I have this same urge to instruct the masses of the error of their ways. You might know what is worth fighting and dying for, but what are there's limits?

    But mostly I'm going to ask this question, what duty do you owe those around you to fight their battles for them?

    I like Peyton Quinn's take:

    You might or might not have already heard that interview.

    Just remember the answers that are right for me might not be right for you.


  2. rory miller tackles some of this dynamic at the beginning of his violence for writers book. Basically, the gist is that there are levels of violence:

    people are comfortable with the level they're on, but the next one is outrageous.
    the first thing is, your mom launched an attack. Very bottom of the manipulative scale, polite, quiet, but had no intention other than to hurt and shame that guy.

    "Manipulation is an extremely low level of violence, but it is violence. Gossip, subtle bullying, understated threats, chilling someone out and forming alliances are all types of coercion."

    The guy responded with low-level aggressive.

    "The aggressive person stops the assertive in her tracks. When someone barges into the office screaming threats and swearing, most assertive people crumble. The aggressive person, again, doesn’t see anything wrong. That was just self-expression. The assertive person (and the nice people and manipulators) feels the aggressive person was completely out of control."

    "The level each person is on is the one that they have justified. That level is good. The next level up is ‘bad’. People tend to define violence as the level above the level they are willing to use. The strategies for dealing with any given level do not work and often backfire when attempted on a higher level of conflict."

    so, the guy just sat at the table. It wasn't marked or reserved or anything. And some lady is gonna throw sarcasm at him, make him feel bad? Unacceptable. And then your mom just made a little comment to someone who did something wrong, and he yells an obscenity? Unacceptable. And you punch him in the face just for saying what he thought about that? Unacceptable.

    Doesn't even matter what's right or wrong. It just escalates as each person responds to what they see as injustices. No one learns a lesson. If you wanted to teach a lesson, you'd have to sit down afterwards, make a friend, a personal connection. Hard to do.

    so there's that side. then there's consequences. escalating to hitting the guy puts you legally in the wrong, etc. but then worse than that are the consequences outside of what you expect. like, your examples of punching the guy in the nose or whatever are monkey dance fighting. Whole groups of people are unphased by that. They do that for fun. it gets a lot worse.

    So you win the fight, get the table. Victory! and then twenty minutes later as you're finishing your meal your chair gets pulled out from under you as he drives your head into the edge of the table. Your nose is shattered, you lose your top front row of teeth, he's gone before you can even lift your face up. You don't know the guy's name, he was on a road trip from six states away and so you can't sue him, you're on the hook for the medical expenses. Or, worse, he does that to your mom, who's nice and won't ever see a Jack in the Box again without breaking down sobbing. Assaultive.

    Or, worse: you humiliate him like that? in front of his kids? he can't tolerate that, man, that is intolerable. You step out of the bathroom after you finish eating and don't even notice the other door open, get shanked six times in the kidney from behind. He spits on you as you crumple, you should've known better than to do that to him. Murderous.

    you can't deliver punishment without perspective and connection and being able to take responsibility. Society as a unit can do that because they are generally connected to everyone in the society, and can step up and soak the response to whatever level it goes to. but without that connection, you just get violence. and everyone's got different ideas about what that is. Legal, responsible martial arts is about getting people out of that, not opening the door to it.

  3. Josh - I will download and listen to the interview tomorrow. I'm always on the lookout for stuff like this, thanks for link.

    considerphlebus - First, I understand your/Miller's point. I do. Part of me agrees. Part of me does not. Does this make me a monster or a bad person? Perhaps.

    Second, Overall, the whole situation is kind of petty. Having a place to sit. (Although in my experience some of the worst fights can occur over the stupidest of things) Even if my mom was rude or launched the first attack, as you say, I can promise you it wasn't intentional. My mom does not have an aggressive bone in her body. Please also note that I did state "Granted, all this guy did was snap at my mom, which doesn't necessarily warrant a punch in the face." Regardless of who started it, I still think his behavior was inappropriate and I stand by my opinion. My mom could have stated her case differently, but either way she didn't deserve to be spoken to like that. You'll note that I didn't start anything, we ate our food and drove away. I don't believe cursing at someone warrants physical response. Or even a verbal one most of the time. I may have WANTED to punch him, but I DIDN'T.

    But what I am asking is this, moving PAST the situation I spoke of, when, in your opinion, is it ok, (or is it ever ok) to raise the level of aggression? Someone yells at me or tries to talk shit about me in a bar, fine, I let it go. Someone tries to mug me, possibly beats me up a little bit, fine, I give them my wallet and let it go. Someone breaks into my house with the intention of raping and possibly murdering me. Is it THEN ok to fight back? Where is the line? And if you do set it at Murderous intent, then why do you set it there? Simply because escalation of violence has the potential to get messy and its not our job to defend ourselves?

    Personally, I don't believe in society being able to dole out punishment. I'm not saying I'm the person to do it, but if I ever get attacked or raped or anything, I can honestly say I don't have a lot of faith in the justice system to make things right. Obviously I have a long way to go before I can move past hang-ups like "fairness" and "justice". Call it quaint or old-fashioned, but that is just who I am. As long as I recognize that, and still act with better judgement, I am ok with that. Even so, if someone tries to rape or murder me, I will harm them in response, I will escalate the violence, and I will not feel bad about it. Miller talks about knowing where your line is and what you are capable of. That is my line. I may not be capable of acting on anything other than that, but if that situation arises, I will respond accordingly.

  4. So that I understand the topic clearly! You are asking how do we justify the use of martial arts not if it is a good idea or not.

    There is no simple answer in my opinion. As mentioned above by Josh and by you SGS I think it is a matter of what you believe is the line. What line is it okay to cross and not. If verbal assult is not big deal than it goes unrewarded. No response, say what you like, you don't matter and I don't care. etc...

    However, I do not believe that it is okay to simple ignore behavior that crosses the line. We have been taught by the society I live in to be nice. At great personal cost we are to be nice. Well that is crap. THAT is what Predators are counting on according to many readings.

    Yes escalation happens and yes there are tons of schools of thought on the matter. But I am not going to talk about that for now since it is not the point. That whole arguement from Miller and other can be summed up in one concept. Be prepared to face the consequences of your actions.

    Personally, I think people who act the way this guy did should also heed this advice. This time he did that because no one was there to stand up for your mom. Probably even sensing that she wouldn't escalate. Thus he is the bigger monkey. Yay for him.

    He might still have said something in your mom's husbands presence and spent the next several weeks eating apply sauce through a straw. Right or wrong I would agree with the latter occurrence. That doesn't make us bad people, it makes us human. At times we are not much higher in order than animals. Tribe behavior and such.

    There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe. A good way to determine that is to get Miller's book and Mr Kane and Wilder's book. They are both thought provoking.

    Of those two books, I believe it is Little Black Book of Violence, has an appendix in it that asks you questions with the focus being on what are your go buttons. What makes you want or need to act. And in what way will you act if you choose to do so. An excellent place to start.

    I have worked security, fought in the ring and out of it. Personally, I would have probably said something back. It would have made things worse but I also think that he would have deserved some sort of shame for acting like such a...well you know. (almost posted without thinking lol)

    Having wrangled people without causing serious injury I would have also probably resorted to trying to embarrass him. But that is me.

    Everyone has a responsibility to determine how they will act under these situations. Even if it is thinking. "I could squash you like an insect, but I chose not too. You may live today. Isn't that nice of me. You are welcome peasant!"

    Finally, of course right and wrong come into play. I cannot and will not pretend to tell anyone what that is. I can tell you what I think right and wrong are but that can vary for each of us depending on your upbringing, religion, etc... Far too much to explain here.

  5. My point was not at all that your mom started it. I did not even say that she attacked first, just that she attacked. Doesn't matter. It's about the fact that people have levels of violence that they do not even consider violence. Your mom did not intend violence. That guy did not intend violence. And the only reason that is important is that, in my mind, being able to evaluate the moral/ethical considerations relies heavily on effectiveness. If your goal is to make the world better. then, ethically, you have to think about how your actions will accomplish that.

    Rephrase it into a totally different context. Say you believe that littering is wrong. Is it okay to stand up against littering? Sure. So you look at how to do that. You could pick up, by hand, litter for an hour every day. You could shoot a person you saw littering. You could do a heartfelt dance around some litter, to communicate the sorrow it causes. These are all methods of Standing Up For What Is Right. In the moment, you gotta do what you gotta go. But if you want to do think what is moral/ethical, you HAVE to consider consequences. Not even in terms of cost to you, but in terms of overall results. Which of these actions will result in the least amount of litter on the ground? Is it worth it to stand up against this particular piece of litter if it means I will never be able to to pick up another piece of litter? Is this method of standing up going to reduce litter in the future, or is this just to reinforce my personal self-image?

    In some cases, for me, no doubt, yes it is. I'm going to give my life here and now to remove this piece of (metaphorical) litter. but in the abstract, in the discussion, how can you say whether it's right or wrong without thinking about what will happen?

    It's okay to raise the level of aggression when it is in accordance with what you think is right. It is unethical to raise the level of aggression in the name of doing what is right without considering if that it will serve that purpose when you have time for that consideration.

    In the moment: this person is doing X, it's wrong to do X, pow, stop it.

    In consideration: this person is doing X, if he's this kind of person, getting popped is probably going to disincline him to do that in the future, if he's this kind it won't, lemme figure out how to tell the difference.

    In the moment, after consideration: this person is doing X, it's wrong to do X, he's the kind of person who will stop in the future if I pop him, POW.

  6. Hi, SG:

    The moment you left that space you gave it up. This is an understood rule in a place like this.

    The first comment should not have been made.

    The return comment was a direct result of the first comment. Rude, crude and inappropriate for anyone especially in front of children.

    Avoidance is understanding that even comments that seem innocuous on the surface most likely carry a hidden meaning by the presupposition and the body language that is not controllable - mostly.

    Although consciously it was not meant to be rude. Unconsciously along with presuppositions, body language, and tone it was rude.

    The best tactic would upon seeing the table gone is to turn around, find another table, if none go and wait by the restroom so you both can go out and eat in the car.

    Your sense that something was amiss in that place was your first instinctual bell going off. That was your wake up call to be very careful and put "shields up" to remain aware.

    Order the food and leave would have been really the best tactic from my perception of the story.

  7. Ok, I SPECIFICALLY said no attacks. Can we please stop pointing fingers at my mom? She had a verbal exchange with some guy. FINE. I talked to her about this post this morning, and she even agreed, "Yeah, I probably shouldn't have said that." Fine. Most of you are all in agreement, including her.

    Considerphlebas - I do understand what you are saying about consequences of your actions, and I agree, they need to be considered. Your second comment gets the point across much better, at least to me. Thank you for clarifying. I especially like the dancing around the litter part. :p

    Charles James - There were no other tables, she did come and wait for me by the bathroom after her exchange and we did leave. I DID NOT go back in and raise the level of violence. End of story. The post was not about what happened at the restaurant but when is it acceptable or appropriate to use your training to stick up for yourself or put someone in their place? As Considerphelbus wrote:

    In the moment: this person is doing X, it's wrong to do X, pow, stop it.

    In consideration: this person is doing X, if he's this kind of person, getting popped is probably going to disincline him to do that in the future, if he's this kind it won't, lemme figure out how to tell the difference.

    In the moment, after consideration: this person is doing X, it's wrong to do X, he's the kind of person who will stop in the future if I pop him, POW.

    Hind-sight is always 20-20, we don't always think or react in a situation the way we think we would or should when something is actually happening to us. I'm sure the whole exchange took all of 3 seconds, and afterwards maybe both people thought, "Oh, oops. I could have handled that better..." I know I do that all the time! I still think about things that happened years ago and think about how I could have handled it better. But what is done is done.

    My question was this: As Martial Artists just, because we can kick someone's ass doesn't mean we should, even if they deserve it, right? I expect most people to say, "Of course, just because you can doesn't mean you should." I want to know: why not? If someone starts it, if they make the first move, why can't we finish it?

    Considerphelbus mentions considering all consequences and out comes of you actions. Sensei Nick says the same thing, but he also says it is important to stand up for yourself, which I agree with. I haven't listened to the interview Josh sent me yet... -.-;

  8. But my question still remains. Obviously the answer is different for everyone. I want to know, if I have considered the moral, ethical, and legal ramifications to responding to violence with more violence, say with the intention of halting it all together, why is this wrong? My dad often asks, "What right does the government have to protect me from myself?" (In this case it is because he won't wear his seat belt, but I think it's a valid question. He's not hurting anyone else by his actions, (I wear my seat belt when I ride with him) so who are they to tell him he has to? Anyway, completely off topic, back to the point)

    In a perfect world we'd all be able to communicate with each other and we'd all get along great and love each other and no one would ever get hurt.

    Were any of you ever bullied in school? I was. MERCILESSLY. I am here to tell you, going to school authorities and trying to follow what is socially considered to be the 'correct' course of action DOES NOT WORK. The only thing that works is to stand up to the bully. Eventually, sooner or later, someone has to do it. I do not believe that type of behavior [bullying] should ever be tolerated. (I think Sensei Nick will agree with me) Eventually, the little guy gets picked on so much they snap. They either stand up for themselves and fight back and do so with such ferocity the bully with never bother them again, or they go off the deep end and we have things like the Columbine shootings occur. I would like to think back int he day, people just went out back, fought it out, and that was the end of it. Now it's a huge no-no. WHY?

    If someone's physical, mental, or emotional well being is at stake, or we see the type of behavior that we know will likely continue to grow unless checked [bullies getting more violent, etc] WHY IS IT NOT OK TO ACT? As martial artists, we are capable of sticking up and defending our selves and our friends, or even strangers verbally or physically if needed. WHY IS IT NOT OK TO DO SO? To everyone who said, Well, it's illegal, I want to know WHY IS IT ILLEGAL?

    It's things like this, diffusion of responsibility and just depending on society to somehow make it right, to "soak it up" as was mentioned in one of the earlier comments; things like NOT acting that lead to things like the holocaust. An extreme example, maybe, but its true!

    "First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me."
    - Martin Niemöller

  9. That guy getting beat up in the alley no one helped, maybe he loses it and robs a convenience store to get back the money he lost, and then people die. The lady who got raped because she felt she couldn't defend herself, maybe she has an abortion and the next Einstein is never born, or maybe she kills herself and leaves her two children and her husband motherless and wifeless. Maybe its you mother, brother, child that is left physically crippled and in a wheel chair for the rest of their life because they didn't escalate the violence and fight back when they were being attacked. Maybe it's you.

    We could go on and on about the what-ifs and the possibilities. There is no way to know for sure which out come will be the best when we act, no one can see the future. We can only make the best decisions we can make with the information we know at the instant the event is happening. I just think sometimes not acting is worse than acting, even if it escalates the violence.

    I just don't think we can always go around and expect someone else to take care of us or everything for us and depend on society/culture to make it right, or pick up the slack. WE are society. If none of us do anything, society does nothing. Sometimes there are times when we need to act. I'm not trying to make this some sort of call to action for martial artists to become vigilantes or anything like that, but I am saying, please also consider the consequences of your non-action as much as that of your actions.