Good, Bad, and a Little of Both

Saturday Valkyrie had to deal with an assault in the neighbourhood. We intervened quickly, and as a team. It was an unpleasant interruption to the afternoon’s teaching, but these sort of things happen in life. I’ll probably write more about the incident in a later post, but for now I want to talk about some of the aspects of self-defense that never really get critically examined.

I want to talk about the bad guy.

The subject in the weekend’s play was a bad guy in that there was absolutely a victim. She was bloody and on the ground, and her main role in events seems to have been to try and stop violence between the bad guy and her partner. Bad guy hit her and she was injured and that’s pretty much all the legal we need to know. Bad guy was a bad guy in that he was angry, out of control and spoiling for a fight with anyone…when I went to intercept him he was literally frothing at the mouth, with that thick white paste of foam that saliva forms in a dry mouth.

But skipping past the action, and the successful deescalation, and I am now in the position of keeping this bad guy calm while we wait for the police to arrive. As happens, once the rage has faded and the calming down has really hit, it’s all about blame and excuses.

His point of view? He’d been kicked in the nuts, really hard. I don’t know if was before or after he struck the victim. It doesn’t matter to me. He entered her property with ill intent and I think she would be justified in kicking him in nuts in self defense at that point. Regardless, he feels victimized. I empathize with him. But it’s also a clear point in his head that he is not the bad guy, that some sort of fair exchange had taken place, that both parties were complicit…it’s not all his fault.

He kept saying “I’m an East Van guy, what was I supposed to do? I had no choice. What else could I do?” Our neighbourhood is lovely, but it’s also a tough place. Low income and the older residents grew up in a society of scraps and rebelliousness. Fighting is part of the older East Van experience (which has altered, or matured, into a powerful sense of communality these days…it’s a good neighbourhood.) and the bad guy felt trapped into that response. To his point of view, there was an earlier incident that he felt could only be coped with by a fight. In his mind, he literally saw no other way. He was compelled by his circumstances to act in the way he did.

And he wasn’t wrong. One of the reasons to constantly pursue learning in life is to discover not only new ways outside of narrow thinking, but to also discover that there is always another way. But without that pursuit of knowledge, even wisdom can only lead us to repeating the same old tired tropes. So from his world view, there was no other way.

I also felt quite bad for him. As he ran through his excuses, he suddenly remembered he was supposed to see his daughter in a few hours. He started to fixate on that as a reason that the current circumstance, and his imminent arrest, couldn’t happen…he had a thing to do in a bit that was suddenly very, very important. Deep inside him some part was starting to break at realizing that he had made a terrible mistake, and that thing was now not going to happen. Me? I was thinking that the odds were that he wasn’t going to be going back upstairs to his home for a long time. His favourite cozy chair, book, and favourite drink were going to go untouched for some time yet…and all because he felt the compulsion to act the way he did.

I felt incredibly sympathetic towards him. It was a terrible thing he was facing, and you aren’t really human if you don’t feel the same way.

I felt a lot more sympathy towards the woman who had been expecting another typical day at work, and then a nice evening off, and into comfortable habits. A woman who was now looking at a few days of painful recovery from a concussion, an afternoon in the hospital and talking to the police. And weeks, if not months, of flinching at odd moments and recalling the violence. And the coming weeks of wondering if the same guy was going to come in again, and if you were going to have to face the person who did all this to you over and over again.

And those are only a part of the stories that are going on, and will go on. My thoughts are still complicated, and mostly I have real sympathy for the police who have to deal with this kind of thing every single day, and will always feel the same kind of complicated thoughts as they deal with the crap that humans stupidly do to each other on a daily basis.

I feel strongly for the victim. I’ve been in her place and it sucks. But I also have a wish that I could take the bad guy in, in some way, and show him how to break out of his rut of thinking, and make better decisions in life. Both the bad guy and the victim would happily swap the weekends experience for a boring normal weekend instead. I have no doubt of that. But it’s a sad reality of life that many of us are not able to see that possibility before we make our choices…and sometimes we are subjected to someone else’s choice.

The fantasy of self-defense is doing the right thing, the right way, the right time against the right person…but that’s a fantasy. Real life is more nuanced. It’s important that our training prepare us to see all the possibilities, but also that it prepare us for circumstances were there are no other possibilities than action. And it should also prepare us for the entanglements of emotion and community that occur after.


In Search Of Real Self Defense

Run away. That’s got to be the piece of martial arts advice I hate the most. It’s so full of smug assumptions about what constitutes a self-defense situation that I feel only envy for the life of people who think it is good advice. Of course, when we are talking about self-defense, context matters. So if you are talking exclusively to men involved in some sort of social display that mostly has a positive or negative outcome that affects social status, but risks life and limb? By all means take this excellent advice, which could also be summed up with “Don’t be an idiot.” For the rest of the situations that might happen to us, the kind we frequently read about in the papers and inspire us to consider lessons in self-defense? By the time the event is happening, if we had the opportunity, we would have run already. Or…

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Hard Starts

Sometimes I don’t know how my students do it. Fencing is a damned hard thing to learn. It’s demoralizing. You have to be fit, and that’s a process that is quite daunting for some. Especially since the fitness we demand isn’t the normal kind that you can brag about to your friends. No easily recorded kilometres run or weight lifted, no records to compare from last week. You need to have an excellent posture that translates all the way from your spine to your toes and fingers, with no weak points between. That takes dedicated strength work and tenacious endurance…and you won’t see the results for years. And the techniques are complex. The weapons are awkward. Throw on top of that our demand that you also excel at boxing and wrestling and you’ve got a very steep learning curve. Toss knife and cane work on top of that. And our…

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There is a current and recurrent thread amongst HEMA and other martial arts disciplines that mocks the fat instructor. It’s one of those things that everyone feels comfortable jumping in on. Five years ago I dropped 50lbs. It was just after finishing my Precision Nutrition certification. One of the most common things you will hear about choosing a health or fitness professional is that you should never chose a fat one. I was sitting at 195, with a good body composition, stellar bloodwork and fitness abilities. And yet every time I looked in the mirror I wanted to scream. I was terrified. I don’t think I can describe the fear.  You’ve either felt it or you haven’t. I looked in the mirror and saw a ghost. I was an insubstantial freak and every ounce of weight that left me was leaving me more and more transparent. Empty. Invisible. Vulnerable. When…

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Molar Equations And The Plastic Brain

I wanted to be a science nerd really bad in high school. There was a problem with that for me. With my family’s frequent moves and the differing school systems I’d been exposed to, as well as some issues with no one noticing I needed glasses for many years, my math skills sucked. And math is really important in physics and chemistry. So chemistry in particular was a massive drag for me. Physics I could get by in because the teacher was sort of taking it easy on everyone, but the chem teacher was a martinet. Probably because the students were damn close to immolating themselves a few times. So my scores were abysmal. Until we got to molar equations. The rest of the class fell apart for this subject and couldn’t keep up, but to me it was childishly simple. Same when we covered ion rings and energy state…

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Balancing Skill

Conlan, who is going to be running what looks like another fantastic workshop at Valkyrie weekend after next, asked me a question on facebook today. I’d posted one of my favourite handstand progression videos to my wall and Conlan asked about what my interest was in handbalancing. What was the benefit to working on it for us? He commented that handbalancing is very skill-specific, just like martial arts, and wondered how I would balance training in both. Which is a great question, and gives me an opportunity to talk about some of the things that make our training at Valkyrie unique. For a little bit of clarity, and to answer the obvious question, handbalancing skill is not very important to us. If it was, we’d spend far more time working on it in class. I posted the video because I believe students should pursue training opportunities outside of class as…

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