Know where the exits are, but forgot to bring a present to the birthday party?
That’s 90% of your problem.
Lots of people come to martial arts because they’re afraid. Whether that’s fear of being weak, defenseless, undisciplined, unfit…it doesn’t matter. Martial arts is sometimes the answer. But a door that can open is to a branch of knowledge that really belongs to combat and combative tactics, which attempts to address how to deal with what they fear, but sometimes does little to address why they fear it and how to deal with the malaise itself.
Worse, the trend in marketing amplifies that fear for the sake of sales, even if the course and material itself is rational. Worse still, people can go through a phase of quasi- or real paranoia, not having known just how many ways there are to be attacked and die.
Let’s face it: many people in ‘reality-based martial arts’ are uncomfortable, intense, awkward, uncompromising, unforgiving, skittish, and weird, even if they have a healthy layer of nice. God bless the instructors who stabilize and improve their lives and those who can take ownership of it and turn it into something fun. And bless those that give those who really need it the tools they require. And by ‘those who really need it’ I mean people who have a high likelihood of killing or getting killed as part of their job. And there’s a scale, right? From stadium security to police officer to soldier to those where it’s actually most of their job. 0.1% chance doesn’t require 100% implementation. Only the Sith deal in absolutes. And like in Star Wars, Yoda correctly identifies fear as the problem.
Don’t do any of those things? Then what about you makes people want to hurt you so badly?
I don’t mean to belittle, but just to ask the question. I’ll give a personal story of how I navigated this and hopefully also show I’m not looking down on anyone who may be in this mental state.
I came to kung fu through a fascination at its coolness, but also some degree of insecurity about masculinity, toughness, drive, dominance, however you want to phrase that. I was attacked by thieves in Barcelona, but could fight them off as they were really just pickpockets. That did make me leave town in a panic though. Later, living on my own for a few years there was also some degree of concern about safety as I lived in the city. I had a storage locker break-in that enraged me at how powerless I felt, but fortunately no one ever invaded my actual living space.
Then the move to sunny Detroit where everyone tells you not to go south of 8 Mile (the movie had just come out too), but quite frankly the whole Metro looked like a piece of shit, especially when you’re afraid to go out exploring. What to do in this city? I guess study knife-fighting with one of the best martial artists I’d ever met.
There were machete attacks back in Toronto for a time too, which combined with the Royal Oak train howling at midnight, was giving me nightmares. I noticed as I got more fit through Muay Thai and better at kali, I wasn’t dying in my dreams anymore, and you know when you replay it with a semi-conscious intent? That was having better and cooler outcomes. It was gradual, but I managed to cross to the other side where I think ‘normal’ healthy people are while keeping my martial arts training fun and athletic, as opposed to tactical/functional. There was no secret piece of knowledge or cathartic moment for me.
Like in Ottawa, what really settled me down was just finding friends, community, and a partner. Some of that was through the gym, but much of it was outside it too. Also, being in a relationship encouraged me to be less of an abrasive dick, which not only meant people liked me more, but I didn’t have to worry about consequences of what I said. Learning to be appropriate and nice sends it into positive territory, and you build allies without having to think of them as ‘allies’. Don’t get me wrong, I still piss plenty of people off, but I hope it’s generally for more legitimate reasons and are lapses rather than the default.
One thing I admire about my wife and wish were better about myself is her ability to work with and help people in Detroit. I don’t mean midtown, I mean Detroit. Not having constant exposure to a different social rhythm, motivation, and dialogue, I freely admit I have a hard time discerning what’s possibly threatening from just an ask for directions or change. I’m sure I’d have similar issues in cultures or other cities I also have little or no exposure to.
But that’s not my life. You could argue my sense of security is an illusion if I don’t have the tools to handle this, but no one is equipped to handle everything unless you’re going in hot, and I realized that a desire to be able to handle low-probability hypotheticals is counter-productive to my overall quality of life. It’s like paying for asteroid insurance.
So I opt for the illusion. Combined with not being alone and having a degree of social and physical competence, it got me mentally to where I was no longer afraid and obsessing over security. Having a good job also relieved material worry. All without dipping my foot in the deep end of what I call the martial arts or combatives crazy.
You may need to get there a different way, which I respect. But in terms of priorities, learn to be nice; learn to be sensitive, and not in the chi sao way, but in the don’t call your boss’s wife fat kind of way. Makes friends, learn to disagree without being hurt or defensive, learn to like people, and you may find you end up liking yourself. Then learn to fire and clean a pistol if you still need to.
Here’s something that is super useful: If your life coach or security consultant is doing anything other than razing a city to the ground for you, make sure they understand this or some equivalent. One thing this book doesn’t touch on though is that different classes and sub-cultures can be just as foreign, which we would do well to remember. Avoid the problem, diffuse the problem, don’t be scared, then don’t get caught with your pants down.