There's a standard joke that floats around the martial arts world. A martial arts blogger did a good riff on it recently:
This is all good fun, and amusing especially to folks on the "inside" who know that all martial arts really consists of is applied biomechanics and a lot of hard work and practice.
But the danger underneath the humor - indeed, the danger underlying our casual attitude towards violence at all levels and in nearly all forms - is that any violence is potentially deadly. Gun-rights advocates talk about carrying guns around as if they were keys or handkerchiefs - as if they weren't in fact extremely dangerous tools. And then there's this tragic story:
Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, or the ultimate measure of justice therein, there is an important lesson here: any violence carries the potential for catastrophe. There were no guns, no knives, no weapons involved here - just a 17 year old kid, a 46 year old man, and a single punch that the man didn't expect and didn't see coming. That was enough to end the man's life and alter the kid's forever.
I have argued before that the measure of violence is not in how much damage it causes but how it is used and under what circumstances. This case serves as a reminder that, all jokes aside, hands can kill.
The real value of martial arts is not in teaching people how to do more damage (hence my discomfort with the popularity of MMA as a sport), but in how to control the damage they can do. Proper training in the martial arts makes you less dangerous, not more, because you have more control over what you do with the tools you have.
As this sad story reminds us, anyone can kill with their bare hands. As Thomas Hobbes wrote centuries ago, "For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest".
I hope that, in the wake of the tragedy in Utah, more folks will remember this and treat violence of all kinds with the respect and care it deserves.