Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Hello again, it's good to be back for another guest-post.

At kicksboxes, I’ve been writing a series of posts called “The Illusion of Reality,” which have been about the way we imagine our martial art techniques to work versus the way they actually happen. Often, we have an idealized image of the way we will fight which appears plausible in the dojo, but quickly falls apart under the stress of actual combat.

In the series, I cover the physical ways that this happens, but after thinking more about it, I realize that we often have moral ideals about fighting that may, or may not, hold when an actual combat situation arises.


When I first started learning karate at age 12, I foolishly thought that learning a martial art would solve all of my problems. Knowing how to fight, I thought, would stop others from bullying me, keep me safe from ‘bad guys,’ and allow me to beat up anyone that tried to mess with me. It was truly an idealized belief in the martial arts.

Unfortunately, as I grew older, I began to realize that knowing how to fight solved very few problems. There are many ways for people to bully you, and only a few of them are physical.

What can you do if your boss gives you unfair work assignments and deadlines? Challenge him to a fistfight?

And even if you are provoked into a fight, there are always consequences. You could be arrested, sued by your attacker, or run into someone that uses a handgun to fight his battles. There are no guarantees.

The fantasy of becoming a tough-guy who could handle all of my problems with my fists never came true; it couldn’t.

On the other side of the coin is the martial ideal of the ‘peaceful warrior,’ that was drummed into me from my early instructors and movies like “Billy Jack” and “The Karate Kid,” that I grew up watching.

“Karate is only for self defense,” Sensi would say. “Never misuse your skills.”

In the Dojo and in the movies, the message was always the same; the martial artist is the one who never fights unless to protect himself or others from serious harm.

That sounds right doesn’t it? I mean we would never misuse our skills; we would never fight unless we absolutely had to… would we?

I’m not so sure.


Back a number of years ago, I trained with the Boxing Team at Eckhart Park Gym in Chicago. It was one of your typical inner city gyms, with a lot of street-tough kids looking for a way to keep out of trouble.

I was kickboxing at the time and needed a place to work on my punching ability. A friend new the head coach and arranged for me and my training partner, John Shaw, to train there.

Several times a week, we would drive down from the suburbs to workout in the gym. We didn’t really fit in very well in that neighborhood, but once everyone realized that we were boxers, they left us alone.

There was one guy who stood out even more than us suburbanites. Everyone called him ‘Dutchboy.’ on account of the fact that he came from Amsterdam. (I can’t even remember his real name.)

Before coming to the states, he was a European middleweight champ. Now he worked in an office at a large bank.

In the early evenings, he would trade his suit and briefcase for a pair of sweaty gloves in a dirty gym to stay in shape.

(Another reason we called him ‘Dutchboy was because he had a goofy haircut that made him look a lot like the character printed on the cans of Dutchboy paint.)

He may have looked a little out of place, but one thing was certain - the gym was his home. That kid could box.

He was tough-as-nails with great endurance, a sharp left hook, and awesome ring management skills. He wasn’t someone I’d want to tangle with.

One day, after practice, we were all sitting around joking and telling stories when Dutchboy asked our coach, an ex-golden gloves fighter named Shawn Casey, a serious question.

Shawn was an old-school, Irish boxer in a town where that means something. He was a wealth of knowledge who earned our respect everyday.

Although he bored us all to death on the basics, we later learned to appreciate his methods. He genuinely cared about each of his fighters, and still pushed us hard. We all loved and admired him for it.

So when Dutchboy asked him this question, we all naturally listened.

“I was walking down the side walk the other day,” Dutchboy told him in his European accent, “passing a stopped bus, when this guy leans out the window and spits right on me - for no reason.”

“I didn’t say anything to him or even notice him,” Dutchboy said. “He just spit right on me!”

(“Probably the haircut,” I thought, but didn’t say anything.)

“I was so mad… I wanted to kill him but I didn’t know what to do, so I just turned and walked away,” he confessed. “Do you think I did the right thing? I mean, what do you do in that situation?”

All eyes turned to Shawn, who gave his usual wise and comforting smile.

“Of course you did the right thing,” he told Dutchboy. “If you went after that guy you might have really killed him - But then you’d be in a lot of trouble with the cops and everything. And who knows maybe that guy had a weapon or maybe he was a gang-banger who had friends with him… you don’t know.”

“You definitely did the right thing,” Shawn told him.

We all nodded in agreement and Dutchboy seemed comforted, but then he pushed the issue.

“So,” he asked, “is that what you would have done?”

“Oh no,” came his answer, “I would have jumped on the bus and beat the hell out of that guy!”

Shawn Casey wasn’t a pacifist, but he was honest.

If I were in that same situation, I’d like to think that I’d act like Dutchboy - It’s certainly the smarter way to go. But I know that inside all of us there’s also a little Shawn Casey waiting to explode.

The point is, no matter how much you’d like to act a certain way in a given situation, you never really know how you’ll react until it actually happens.

I hope this story gives us all something to think about.



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