Monday, December 14, 2009


I had a few conversations today with martial artists I know here in Istanbul. I'm going to change their names. I'll call the first one Mehmet. He's very experienced in a number of styles, an obviously outstanding martial artist. In the past I've asked him why he took up the martial arts; he told me that he wanted to learn how to defend himself. Not, obviously, an atypical response.

Me: I don't want to feel unsafe walking down the streets.
Mehmet: [Shouting] Then screw the martial arts. The martial arts are shit and everyone in them is shit -- they're all egotistical narcissistic fucking frauds. Don't waste time on them. Use your time to earn more money, take taxis everywhere, go back to the States and live in a safe neighborhood.

(I paraphrase, because I can't remember what he said exactly, but that was the gist of it.)

Leaving aside the question of whether any neighborhood in the United States is safer then Istanbul, what he seems to be suggesting is that I spend the rest of my life in a gated community for seriously wealthy people, occasionally asking my chauffeur or personal bodyguard to accompany me while I slum it over to the grocery store. Problem is, I sometimes like to go outside by myself on a sunny day, without a chaperone. And actually, I'm a journalist who lives in Istanbul, so sometimes I do have to go to low-rent neighborhoods, because that's where the news is, usually.

So I guess if all the martial arts are shit, I'm just hosed. I better buy myself a gun and get really proficient at the firing range.

You'll recognize that his remarks did not precisely have the standard elements of a pep talk, but give the man credit for honesty. I've certainly had these thoughts myself, on a bad day.

I don't believe it though. I don't think it's all shit and they're all shit. Obviously, there's quite a bit of dysfunction, as the shrinks say, in the martial arts community here. Some real clowns and lowlifes. But there are some good people too. Good fighters, people who are willing to teach and even willing to teach a middle-aged American weirdo like me, despite my standing out at their gyms like a tarantula on angel food.

I had a great time again with O. and G. tonight. G. has gotten really into the idea of showing me the consequences of failing to push away from the clinch at the right moment, which he uses to drop me to the floor, every time. I keep getting up, determined he's not going to be successful this time, and every single time, he does it again. It is my sole goal in life to get that kid down to the ground before he gets me.

Anyway, conversation two, with another good Muay Thai fighter. I'll call him Selcuk. He's only been doing this a few more months than me, but he's much more talented than I and about 20 years younger, too On the other hand, he's about my size. "So," I said to him, "in principle, if I trained hard enough, I should be able to give you a pretty good run for your money."

"No way," he said. "You're a woman."
"So? We're about the same size."
He looked at me appraisingly. "You're much shorter than me. And thinner."
"No way. We're about the same size."
"It's still not possible."

We then discussed the state of the women's bathroom at the Boran Gym (the state is non-existent.)

"I think most women find that a bit of a discouragement," I said.
"Martial arts gyms are supposed to be dirty."
"Why? Do you think it sharpens your athletic abilities to acquire foot rot in the toilet?"
"No, but it's just part of it. Rich people can't fight. They're too lazy."
"That's why they're rich, right? Laziness being a well-known path to economic success and all."
"No, it's just that if you have options, you don't want to fight. You have to have passion and aggression to fight."
"So rich people are passionless androids?"
"Yeah, kind of."


  1. That was a nasty example of bending the conversation you mean old woman...

    Best regards;


  2. Selcuk:

    You do not exist. I know, I invented you. But if you'd like to add the parts I neglected (not through deliberate omission but for lack of time), please do feel free.

    Best regards,


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