Thursday, November 29, 2012

Redirecting a Situation

I wrote yesterday that one of the benefits of studying martial arts is that it takes away fear. Here's a concrete example of how that plays out, posted by a martial artist with 30 years' experience whom I greatly admire:
So I gave a man $10 in town. Why? I realize now that he started off trying to mug me. He said: "I need money," as he towered over me.I said: "Whatever's happened?"Then he started telling me that he'd just got out of prison, how tough things were, etc."That sounds terrible."So I took him to a booth at the train station where I bought an iced tea to change a $20 and gave him ten. He thanked me, shook my hand and off he went to catch a bus.
Why do I find this remarkable? There's no fight here, no battle royale, no opportunity for this guy to display his fighting prowess. But this is exactly the outcome that should come about with a true martial arts master.

What's going on here? A big man comes up to mug our protagonist. Because he is not afraid (despite the fellow's size) and because he has half a lifetime's experience thinking about confrontation, cooperation, and how to turn a situation around with a minimum of effort, it doesn't even occur to the martial artist that he is being mugged. He does not react in fear. He is freed, both by his confidence and by his advanced thinking, to response as one human being to another. It's only after the whole transaction is over does it occur to him that the tall guy initially intended it to be a mugging.

This is the transformative power of advanced martial arts. It's not in the ability to "beat people up", but in freeing the practitioner to be the best person they can be, even when others around you aren't. This interaction could easily have turned confrontational, even violent. And likely the master would have "won". But to what end? As it is, he did something nice for a fellow human being, and in the process taught the recently-released ex-con a valuable lesson: that cooperation and kindness really do exist in the world, and that you don't have to get what you need by threatening others.

If you're interested in more of this fellow's writings, you can follow his blog "The Way of Least Resistance" at

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