Thursday, December 17, 2009


Obviously, the problem I note below is not confined to the martial arts. When I interviewed Neil Kinnock, the leader of the Labour Party during Margaret Thatcher's time in power, he described exactly the same dilemma:

Several more times during our conversation, he tells me that he simply couldn’t figure out how to attack a middle-aged woman without looking like a cad. He says this as if menopause were an illegal weapon. “The feeling I’m getting,” I say to Kinnock, “is that you did not feel that she played fair.”

“Oh, Christ, this is politics!”

“I know.”

“No, this is not boxing under the Queensbury rules, and it’s not association football! This is a blood sport!”

“Well, then, how come you weren’t willing to really stick it to her? I mean, you’re saying, ‘I didn’t want to use discourteous language, I didn’t want to be seen attacking a woman older than me,’ but if this is a blood sport, why didn’t you?”

He sighs. I feel a bit cruel now, as if I’m not playing fair myself, but I really do want to know how he explains this to himself. “Well, like I said,” he answers at last, “it would have been politically disadvantageous—but in any case, it would have bloody demeaned me to have done that. If you’re doing it, you know, toe-to-toe with a fellow about your age, or even if he’d been a bit older than myself, that would have been—”

“So you’re basically saying, ‘I couldn’t hit a girl.’”

“Well, I know I couldn’t hit a girl—”

“Yeah, but you know, she happened to be the prime minister. And you felt that you couldn’t hit back? Because she was a woman?

“Not that I couldn’t hit back, I mean, I did hit back!”

I am left, in the end, with two images—a small boy of about three, red-haired, pink-faced, hiccupping as he fights back tears, staring into the looming face of an impossibly large woman in an apron. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

And then, the image of a beleaguered middle-aged man with a thin fringe of wispy pumpkinish hair, lying on the psychotherapist’s couch.

“My mother,” he is saying, “was a formidable woman.”

I should stress that while I have great sympathy for this position in the martial arts, I have none for it in politics.

If you want to read the rest of that interview, it's in my book.


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