(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.