Saturday, November 7, 2009


Hakko asked a question in the comment section:

What are your goals as a martial artist? Do you want to step into the Octagon (preferably one you built yourself with incredible plans from the intarwebs) and crack skulls? Do you want a workout that's more fun than Stepercize™? Do you want to be a bodyguard, bouncer, or professional assassin? Do you want to achieve some physical milestone? Do you want to be able to walk out of a dangerous situation with all your limbs, organs, appendages, and most of your blood? These answers, while not mutually exclusive, point to different training regimens, methods, and, perhaps, arts.

A good question, and the answer is that I want to be a professional assassin. It's a tough economy these days, Hakko. Bad times for freelance writers. We all have to think about augmenting our skill set, and I've concluded that wet work is where it's at.

But if that doesn't work out for me, I do have some other goals. The first is the obvious. Yes, I want to learn how to defend myself. I'm a woman; I live alone; I'm a journalist who writes about things that people can be very touchy about. I'm a long, long ways from having confidence that I'd prevail in a real situation if it came up, but I reckon anyone who has that confidence is kidding himself, anyway. Perhaps I'd have a better shot now than I would have two years ago. I'd at least have some idea what to do now. I had none whatsoever before.

I'm pretty realistic about the limitations of any martial art. I don't believe anyone who claims martial arts training -- of any kind -- would do you a power of good against someone determined to harm you and intelligent about it (i.e., armed). But there's actually some empirical support for the idea that people who have had martial arts training are more likely to survive a violent confrontation. I'm meaning to post these studies; I'll get around to it soon. Interestingly, this support is particularly strong for the idea that elderly people with a martial arts or military background do better in these circumstances.

The second is the challenge. I'm awfully curious to see just how far it's possible to push a 41-year-old female body, how much I can actually achieve. I do want to get good at things I'm not naturally good at (reflexes, coordination, timing), and better at the things I'm naturally good at (endurance, strength, flexibility, discipline). I like the feeling of making progress, however slow. And I want to compete. I'm by nature incredibly and obnoxiously competitive and aggressive, and there's no point fighting that side of me: It's the way I was born. I'm looking for environments where these traits are prized, not despised. If I can drain off a bit of that aggression in what I believe the professionals call an "appropriate" context, it makes it less likely that it will leak out into parts of my life where it really does me no good, those contexts being too obvious to enumerate.

Obviously, the next point is fitness. I like being strong and healthy and vigorous, and I not only like, but get very morose without, the endorphins and the generally good effect on my mood that doing a lot of exercise gives me. (This latter point is where a certain degree of addiction comes in: It's something I ought to be careful about, because I do sometimes train through pain that I shouldn't be training through.)

The fourth is play -- one of the significantly under-appreciated aspects of studying a martial art, to judge from the literature. I'm surrounded all day by animals. It's clear to me that the play instinct runs very strong in all living creatures (as in this video), but it gets very few outlets among human adults in the urbanized and industrialized world.

The fifth is a social outlet: I like seeing friendly, familiar faces on a regular basis. I don't need to have deep conversations with these people -- I don't even want to, frankly -- but I want to have a place to go, when I've finished sitting alone in front of a computer all day, where I feel at home, where people smile at me when I walk in the door, and know me by name, and ask how I am, and where I feel comfortable and part of a group that at least tolerates me in a reasonably good-natured way. With martial arts (in principle), you don't have to talk about anything because you're doing something. When I've spent all day struggling to find ways to be verbally clever, I don't want in the evening to go to anywhere near a lecture or a dinner party or get into debates about politics. I want to do something else entirely, the operative word being "do."

Ideally, I'd want to do this in an environment where women are welcome and where they're viewed as athletes first and women second; where the men are willing to train with women and not made manifestly uncomfortable by physical contact with them. Ideally, I'd like to train in a place where other women train as well -- being the only woman, not to mention the only American, in a class leads to a constant, low-level feeling of being an interloper and an intruder. But I suspect I won't find a gym in Istanbul with any significant number of women who are serious about the martial arts unless I make that happen -- we'll see if I can -- and if it's a choice between never training with women and giving up, I'll take never training with women.

Here's what I don't want: martial arts politics, martial arts bullshit, martial arts feuds, and instructors severely afflicted with Martial Arts Asshole Syndrome. I hate hierarchies, belts, uniforms, certificates, humorlessness, walking on eggshells for fear of offending some blowhard's fragile ego, standing around doing nothing while waiting for everyone to stop jabbering on about how their martial art is more lethal than the other guys', listening to endless debates about how who would kick whose ass in a real fight, and having to pretend to be respectful of people who haven't yet done much to earn my respect -- like teaching me something. I don't much care whether my teacher is the world's undefeated heavyweight champ or the world's greatest street-brawler or whether he can hospitalize an assailant with the concentrated elixir of his Chi power: I mean, that's interesting and all, and maybe I can write an article about it, but if he's not willing to teach me, it's basically useless to me. But I am willing to give every ounce of my respect and my devotion to someone who teaches me something that makes me better at this -- or tries to.

Does that help?

1 comment:

  1. Definitely. And once you get your License to Kill™, let's talk about my Congressman...