Thursday, November 16, 2006
Why Martial Arts?
I get asked this one now and again. Why go to all that work to study something you might never use? That you are going to go out of your way to avoid using?
The quick answer is, "Because it only takes one time to pay for itself." That extra twenty-five years you get when the guy trying to take your head off can't? Hard to put a price on that.
If your car gets rear-ended, insurance can pay for a new bumper.
You can't fix dead ...
Most people get into martial arts (and I'll include western-style boxing and wrestling here) for self-defense. Some do the stuff for sport, some for discipline or social intercourse, or just to stay in shape, but if I had to guess, based on the last survey I dimly remember reading, eight of ten do so with the idea they can use the training to keep somebody from kicking their ass.
Certainly that's why I did.
Here's the inevitable digression ...
Much of how I was formed as person has been a study in Napoleonic Compensation. As a boy, I was terrified of drowning, not just worried, terrified. The way my father taught us to swim was, he showed us how to paddle and kick, and, when he thought we should have it, chucked us into the deep end of the pool to see. At age eight or so, I got tossed, and I managed to get back to the side; that time, my little brother went straight to the bottom and my father had to dive in and fetch him.
Old-style teaching, and not my wont.
So I could swim, after a fashion, but for the next few years, I was fearful any time the water was deeper than I was tall, and in the schoolboy dunkings, I was panicked.
So when I got to the Boy Scouts, I started taking every class and merit badge there was on how-to-swim. After I got those, I got a job working as a lifeguard at a country club pool and spent hours every day in the water. Became a Water Safety Instructor, courtesy of the Red Cross, and at one point could hold my breath for four minutes. I learned all the swimming strokes well enough to teach them, and did.
Also got scuba gear and learned how to dive -- until a blown-out eardrum ended that.
By the time I was eighteen, I had absolutely no fear of drowning. The water was my friend, a source of fun, I loved to swim, and though I don't much these days, still love it. Doesn't't mean that drowning is impossible, but the unreasoning fear of it is long-gone.
Somebody wants to grab me and hold me under? Fine, let's both go -- and see who runs out of air first ...
As a tad, I got into a few fistfights, schoolboy stuff again, and while I wasn't particularly adept (and was passing small in size), I won as many as I lost. But I was fearful, worried that I would get beaten-up, and during my junior high years, was in a school where there were a dozen fights every day. I walked wide to avoid possible confrontations, even though when they happened, I held my own. It was not so much the ability, it was the confidence that was lacking.
So when the first karate school opened its doors in our town a few years later, I was in the first class. Didn't really learn much there, but subsequent attendance and training at a half-dozen other martial arts schools eventually followed.
At some point, I stopped worrying that I was gonna get thumped.
After the last eleven years in pentjak silat, I feel fairly confident that my skills are sufficient to provide me some tools that work, so while I might still get my ass handed to me, I'm not afraid that is going to happen. I kinda feel like that scene in Gordy Dickson's Dorsai novel when somebody is watching one of the Dorsai and realizing that if that guy sees a fight coming, he isn't worried about whether he can win, he's considering how he is going to do it.
Not, "Can I sink the six ball?" but, "That's a given -- how many rails can I use, and in which pocket do I want to sink it?"
There is a difference, of course, in what you can do and what you think you can do, and sometimes the latter may get too far ahead of the former and cause you some problems. But if I had to narrow it down, I'd say that believing you can survive a dust-up is more important than being a master of the art you'll use to try.
Attitude matters. The fight, as they say, isn't under the glove -- it's under the hat. You might not be the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the Valley of Death, but if you believe that you are? Better than being sure you'll get whipped if push comes to shove.
Waaay better ...