It dawns on me that I haven’t written a post on something martial arts related in a fair little while, so I thought to myself, “Why not do some venting?” In all seriousness, I’ve had some instances in my personal and professional life where karate was a useful tool and got me out of some sticky spots. The problem with such incidents, is that I can’t necessarily discuss the “professional” ones and the “personal” ones are usually embarrassing. In all honesty, there’s no real way to tell a fight story that doesn’t make you come out sounding as though you either got your ass kicked or you’re bragging about kicking someone else’s ass. I don’t like either scenario, so I’ll simply provide that every fight I’ve ever been involved in was initiated by the other party, was unavoidable and was in the defence of myself or others. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on those fights, the comments that were made and the presumptions people have about martial arts…
For the most part, I don’t discuss my karate training with someone unless I know them and am comfortable with them. You may be asking how I can make that claim, since I’m writing a post that all my followers and anyone who stumbles across my blog can read and recognize that I study karate? Well, it’s a blog about Buddhism and martial arts so, what do you expect? But outside of this digital arena, I don’t go around advertising my skills or training. And in recent years, I’ve even started to avoid wearing anything with my dojo’s insignia’s or logos outside the house. The reason for that is quite simple: there are those who just want to watch the world burn and will seek to challenge someone claiming to be trained in a fighting art. And that’s where this point comes in.to play.
In 2005, I was out with a few friends at a local club. I use the term “club” quite loosely. I’ve been to Halifax and Ottawa and have had the opportunity to experience actual night clubs that are comparable to some of the ones one might see in the movies. But the BAR from my home town that fancied itself as a club was pretty much the only location of its kind for a couple of hours in any direction. So they had the option of taking liberties with how they referred to themselves. Somehow, a dark, poorly-lit space with stained and damp carpeting, coupled with a flat 10-foot by 10-foot space of vinyl tile as a dance floor just doesn’t scream “night club” to me. That location no longer exists, so I can allow myself to be critical. But I digress…
Like most people in the area, it was one of the only locations that a person could go in order to socialize (as much as socialization can happen with loud music playing). But if you wanted an adult beverage mixed with some company, this was the place to go. But when you cram a couple of hundred people into a confined space, load them up with alcohol and loud music, it has the potential to be a recipe for disaster. But, I was in my 20’s, I was single ands I had nowhere else to go on a Saturday night. I had gone out with two of my friends; one who worked with me and one who actually did karate with me. We got some drinks and relaxed by chatting and people watching.
At some point in the evening, my friend and I (the work friend, not the karate friend) were leaning on a section of the bar and chatting, when what I will simply call a “young lady” walked over to us. For some reason that to this day I can’t explain, she started in on me. She accused me of grabbing her backside as I walked past her earlier. My friend and I both laughed until we realized she was totally serious. Not only was this a ridiculous accusation as I’d be the last person to ever do something of that nature, it was also impossible as my friends and I had walked in, bought our drinks and leaned at the bar. The karate friend was off somewhere trying to pick up (a common, albeit unsuccessful hobby of his), but my other friend and I hadn’t moved since we had arrived.
I basically wrote off her comments and told her to leave us alone as all we were trying to do was have a nice evening and that I wasn’t the guy she was looking for. She took offence, claimed it was me while pointing out my clothing (I was wearing a black t-shirt) but walked away. I thought the matter was closed until we noticed her talking to a couple of guys in an agitated manner and pointing at us! Never one to willingly walk into a fight, I told my friend that maybe this would be a one-drink night and that we should vacate the premises. He agreed. I couldn’t find the karate friend, so we headed outside where we could decide what we’d do next (this was before cell phones were a common thing). We decided the best thing would be to wander down the street to the nearest sandwich shop and grab a snack.
As we started walking down the street, the door of the club opened and closed a couple of times. Not an unusual occurrence, but given the situation we had dealt with inside, I cautiously turned and looked over my shoulder. Some may call it coincidence, some would call it providence but I looked over my should just in time to see two guys moving quickly to catch up with us. I turned just in time for the first guy to take a wide hook-punch towards my head. Given the slow, telegraphed nature of his punch, there was plenty of time for me to block and deliver a single punch that staggered my attacker and sent him to the ground, holding his mouth and moaning in pain.
I stood there, shaking out the throbbing pain in my fist and staring at the second guy. I asked him if we were done. He stared in disbelief at his cohort sprawled on the sidewalk, helped him to his feet and returned to the club. My fist was killing me and I was hankering for some ice. My friend appeared to be in shock and hadn’t fully absorbed what had just happened. My karate friend conveniently stepped outside at that point, angry at us for having left without him. We carried on to the sandwich shop.
Once we were there and my work friend finally had his adrenaline dump and was getting some food into his system, he asked me the same question that many if not most people have asked, who have seen something like this happen in real life: “That’s it? I thought you’d do something fancier…”. The important thing to point out is that a threat presented itself, I responded and stopped the threat and then stopped myself.
There’s a common misconception, and I blame cinema and television for this, that someone who practices and studies the martial arts will always do some high-flying, flowery move when using their skills. Martial arts is complicated and convoluted on its face, but its application is intended to be ANYTHING but complicated and fancy. Muscle memory is key, as it allows a practitioner to defend themselves in the moment, without the need for prior preparation or warning. Without that training, the individual in question may have reached me and injured me before I ever had the opportunity to defend myself. Depending on what their end game was, it could have led to more than simple injury.
So here’s what the non-practitioner needs to know about the practical application of martial arts skills:
– It’l Be Quick: Unlike what you see on screen, fights rarely last more than 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. Fighting is exhausting and takes a lot out of you. Even with adrenaline coursing through one’s system, street fights often end with one participant or the other being struck and stopping, or both parties exhausted and breathing hard. Boxer and professional fighters train ad nauseam to be able to last the length of time that they do in the ring. But even they get to take a rest every few minutes;
– It’ll Be Simple: No, I won’t spin around with both my feet flying off the ground, my body won’t be spinning in place and there won’t be a fancy, high-flying technique where I strike my opponent ten times before they have the time to fall to the ground. Defending oneself needs to be a simple and straightforward as possible. There isn’t time to try anything out-of-this-world and attempting to do so will give your opponent the time to harm you;
– It’ll Hurt You As Well: Even if the stars align and you manage to evade the opponent’s attack and deliver some strikes of your own, don’t expect that you’ll walk away without injury. If I take the scenario above as an example, I managed to defend myself and stop the threat against my friend and I. But not without my fist throbbing like a bastard. Even though I punched properly and didn’t sprain my wrist and didn’t have my fingers loose or any of those common mistakes, Knuckles are made of bone. The guy’s face is plated in bone. Bone on bone hurts. No matter the nature of the fight, winning doesn’t mean you’ll be pain and injury-free.
I’ve had a number of people, over the years, ask me about situations like this and wonder why I didn’t do something more substantial or complicated. The important thing to remember is that when defending oneself, all that matters is coming out safe. Not looking good doing it. And that usually requires keeping things quick and simple. Don’t be fooled by everything you see on the television. It looks cool and nice on the big screen, but rarely does this apply to real life in an actual fight situation. ☯️