(thanks to Sensei Andrea Harkins for this topic)

“Have you ever had to use karate against someone?”

Often people ask me this question because they hope I’ve never been in danger.  Sometimes they are just plain curious.  Every once in awhile when someone asks me this, the tone of voice, facial expression, and the body language indicate that what they’re really after is a cool story about how I beat up a serial rapist one night and sent him to the hospital with a few of his parts crushed into jelly.  Most of these people don’t understand that at my level of competence, I’d be lucky to create an opportunity that would allow me to run away.

Real fights aren’t glamorous and they have consequences.  I’ve only been in one fight myself. By Hollywood standards it really wasn’t much of a fight because I only used just enough force to make my point and walk away.  And yes, there were consequences for me even though I gained freedom from ongoing physical abuse.  As I’ve said before in another article, when we use force – even minimal force, against another human being there are consequences.  Outcomes can be either positive or negative.  One can see this principle played out in a variety of life situations.

In martial arts and many sports, two or more people mutually consent to engage in using force against each other.  One walks away with a medal, the other doesn’t.  Sometimes the consequences are greater – one team wins national honors, one team doesn’t.  Injuries of various severity happen.  These consequences are part and parcel for the activities, and hopefully everyone understands this beforehand!

Sometimes people use force against others to prevent greater harm.  For instance, someone might knock another person to the ground to save that person from being hit by a falling rock.  The consequences might be bruises and scrapes, but that’s better than being six feet under ground.  Usually there’s good feeling all around when someone is a hero.  In a more common scenario, a parent might snatch a curious toddler’s hand away from a burning candle.  The toddler might cry in vexation – that’s a consequence, but it’s one most parents can live with.  The child will eventually learn to leave candles alone.

Of course force is also used against people who are acting on bad choices.  It can be tough for us to deal with the consequences of harm we’ve inflicted even if it was only a little harm done for the right reasons against someone who deserved it.  We might doubt ourselves, and that self-doubt could last a very long time.  I’m told people sometimes get sued for harm they inflicted while defending themselves.

Before he passed away, I sometimes talked with my grandfather about his experiences as a soldier in Europe during World War II.  By the time he felt comfortable talking to me about the war, any PTSD he might have suffered was long since over. Nonetheless, he told me that killing others, watching friends die, and almost dying himself were things that had deeply affected his life.  He made it very clear that taking a human life is a very serious thing indeed.

I don’t want to write much about force that is used against people for the wrong reasons.  The consequences for child abusers, muggers, and murderers can range from jail sentences to the electric chair.  Enough said.

The challenge for me as I study karate is to learn to control my use of force so that I don’t use too much when it isn’t appropriate to do so.  I don’t sweat my way through drills and kumite so I can go to the worst part of town, pick a fight, then brag about it afterward.  Such behavior goes against everything Karate students are taught about humility and self control.  I am learning about what kind of force is appropriate for any given situation I might find myself in.  Should I ever have to use force against someone in the future, I will need to accept and deal with whatever consequences come afterward.  Hopefully I’ll have the strength of character to do that.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

6 thoughts on “Consequences”

  1. OSU, KarateMama!

    Such an important topic. I’d say to be an effective martial artist AND live comfortably with the consequences of our actions, we first need to be as clear as possible about what we will fight for and what we will not. It’s only when we get caught in a gray area that we open ourselves up to living with regrets.

    Great article! 🙂

    1. Ossu! [bow]

      Thank you! Great insight, and food for thought! It’s hardwired into me that I will tear apart anyone who attacks my kids if I’m anywhere nearby. I won’t attack anyone who merely flips me the bird. But would I fight on behalf of a stranger? If one of my kids were with me, the answer might be “no” because I want to keep my kids safe. Is this the sort of clarification and decision making you are talking about?


  2. Right! Playing out scenarios in your head BEFORE something bad happens gives you an edge because you’ve got a plan. You’ve already made a decision.

    Of course, your plan can always change in the moment, but it’s better to start with a plan, than find yourself scrambling for one later.

    1. Ossu! [bow]

      OK, well, I was tested this afternoon!!!

      Some hoodlums loitering outside the library thought they were being funny saying disparaging things about me and my special needs daughter. I’d long since made the decision to not react, and I actually took it as a complement when they taunted that I was acting like a robot by not showing any reaction. Good – that’s exactly what I wanted them to see – they wanted a reaction, they didn’t get one. Mama Grizzly Bear doesn’t come out to rumble unless someone touches her cub.

  3. Excellent post and topic! 🙂
    It’s always great to see and read about martial artists who keep in mind and express the dangers of martial arts training. Your topic brings to mind the late Senior Grandmaster of American Kenpo Karate Ed Parker’s quote:“I come to you with only Karate, Empty Hands. I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles, or my honor, should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong, then here are my weapons, Karate, my Empty Hands.” Keep on training hard and opening people’s minds up about the truth of the martial arts journey and the responsibility that goes with it. Osu!

    1. Osu, Anwar! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I like that quote. Thank you very much for the encouragement! I’d like to think that anything good I write about Martial Arts is the result of my Senseis and many other people investing heavily in me.

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