The Paradox of Violence
Where does the truth of martial arts lie: in the practice room or on the street? Is it in the perseverance and dedication to form or in gut-level spontaneous violence and backlash? This is a seemingly eternal topic of debate whose very importance is demonstrated by its imperishability. Yet, can there be a correct answer to an incorrect question? A recent incident brought to my attention—and dismay—some of the paradoxes involved in this issue.
I was on the patio, practicing my Tai Chi form, when two boys, ten or so years old, approached the fence and started watching me.
“You doing karate?” the bigger one asked.
“No, a kind of kung fu,” I replied, continuing with my form.
“Is it like karate?” the smaller one wanted to know.
“Karate is Japanese, kung fu is Chinese.”
“You do it every day?” The smaller one again.
“Do you use it for self-defense?” asked the bigger one.
“Well, I guess I could if I had to.”
“I got something for self-defense, too,” the bigger one said.
I stopped moving as I saw him tentatively reach into his pocket, a sinking feeling in my gut. I wasn’t frightened, for his movement wasn’t threatening, just wrenched to my roots, knowing he was going to proudly show me something I didn’t really want to see.
Almost shyly he dragged the butterfly knife out of his pocket and awkwardly displayed it. It flopped loosely as he held the hinge pinched between his forefinger and thumb. He hadn’t even had it locked closed in his pocket, though he’d probably become all-too-expert with it all too soon. The late afternoon sun gleamed on the swinging handles, the dangling blade. He smiled.
Even the best of us have a hard time being brilliant on the spur of the moment. Besides, how do you explain to a ten-year-old stranger from another world that he’s got it all wrong? All I could do was look him in the eye and say in a sad tone, “That’s great if you always have it, if you always want to hurt someone.”
His shy, proud smile faded as his forehead creased in a puzzled expression.
I looked at that boy, taking in the terrible dichotomy of the innocence of the child, the violence of the blade. How easily they could assume each other’s roles. How easily human violence can wield innocent matter to destructive ends. How easily the knife invites—perhaps invokes—that violence.
Suddenly he was nudged in the ribs by the smaller kid, who jerked his head.
And off they ran, the bigger kid stuffing the deadly butterfly back into his pocket. I stepped forward, wanting to yell, “Come back. Let me tell you about self-control, about real self-defense!” But they had disappeared into the dusk.
Troubled, I returned to my practice, thinking that the truth of fighting and violence lies not in locations or situations but in the more intangible latitudes and inaccessible occurrences of the hearts, minds, and souls of human beings.