Am I a bloodthirsty barbarian?
Because I like seeing people beat each other up. And I’m really not sure why. What is my fascination with the martial struggle between two men? I enjoy boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA. . . a little Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling, and catch wrestling now and then. I like seeing two athletes attempt to pick one another apart with precise strikes, or force one another to tap or face broken bones and shredded joints. I like all that–I watch it all the time, and I personally train. But I don’t really like sports. So what’s the difference?
I think to me there’s a fascination with this idea that fighting sports are somehow more useful than other sports. I see a guy throw a ball into a hoop, and I’m not impressed. I think silently to myself, What good is that going to do him? But I see a man wrap his arms around another man’s neck and wait till he submits or goes limp before letting go? I like that. I see one man lay his shin across another man’s jaw and walk away as he crumples to the canvas? I think, Yeah. That’s the stuff.
So what gives? Really, we don’t live in a society in which those skills are overly important. At least I don’t (sorry, those of you from war-torn homelands). Yeah, in most of the Western World you stand a slim chance of being mugged on your way home from work or the bar. And yeah, you might run into some kind of lunatic who wants your blood for no good reason. But it’s not really that useful. And honestly, you’re better off running away regardless, right? And then your practice in football or soccer might prove more useful. At least you’ll be quick. And most martial arts deal in one-on-one encounters, anyway. That’s what the sports derived from them focus on. And you’re rarely gonna get mugged by just one person.
So why does it seem so important to me to know how to fight? I’d like to say it’s because I can stand up and defend someone’s honor. My family’s, my girlfriend’s. . . I certainly fantasize about that kind of stuff enough. Or having to defend my own life, and not feeling any fear in the process. I fantasize about that, too. Doesn’t every little kid? When you’re young you imagine yourself defeating evildoers, right?
I still do that now. I don’t know what that says about my mental state, but it’s the truth. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked home from work, sun already far below the horizon, and just waited, waited for that tough punk to step out of the alleyway behind me. And you better believe I’ve got my ear cocked for the scuffle of shoes behind me. Then I turn around, and the asshole and two of his friends are coming towards me. No weapon in sight, thank God–just planning to beat me into submission. Bad choice. See in these fantasies I’m not only a few cumulative months into training. I don’t lack the muscle memory that’s so crucial in panic situations–in fact, I’m not even panicking, because I know I can handle these suckers without breaking a sweat. They’re the problem, and I’m the answer. I’ve got perfect form, blinding quickness, crushing power, steel shins and knuckles that won’t feel an ounce of pain when they’re introduced to the hard bones of an elbow or a jaw. I’ve got precision and timing, and I’m a force to be reckoned with.
But that’s not why I train to fight. I don’t want to be attacked, really. So maybe I want to pick a fight?
Maybe somebody’s messing with my girlfriend, trying to push her around or force himself on her. Wrong move, asshole. Because I’m coming around the corner right when this shit’s going down. And I don’t even need to sucker punch the villain, because I’ve got the technique to square up and scrap without any need for the element of surprise. Quick jab and cross to the head, swift left uppercut to the body, smashing low kick to the thigh, just above the knee. Said knee buckles, the clown falls to the ground clutching his leg, and who stands victorious but I, brave vanquisher of evil.
But like I said, that’s all childish fantasy. And none of that is likely to happen. I’m unlikely to even survive an encounter with three money-hungry thugs in an alley, at least not without broken bones and a busted lip. I’d be lucky if they didn’t pull a gun or a couple of knives on me. The only situation in which I’ll have any hope of looking impressive would be in the defense of my girlfriend, and then all technique would go out the window at this point in my study. I’d likely get my ass kicked. She’d be left with telling me, “It’s the thought that counts” while holding ice on my black eye.
So what is it?
To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s the hope of finding something that I’m good at. Something physical that most other people can’t match me in. Getting punched in the face isn’t as popular as tossing the pigskin, you know. Or maybe it’s the idea that my doughy self can still snicker inside when I see a beefed up musclehead checking himself out in the mirror at the gym, because I know I’m working on what counts, not just what looks good. The truth is, I’m not a violent person. I don’t like hurting people, and I’ve never been in a fight with anyone but my sisters when I was young. I’m more one to bandy words than blows, and I don’t count myself as anything close to the most skilled guy in the gym.
So maybe it’s just the fantasy that makes it fun for me. The fact that seeing an expert in the craft of fighting put away someone with just as much skill helps fill my head with images of my own potential greatness. If I lived in the worlds of history that I study, or the worlds of fantasy that I write, I too could be that fighter, that noble hero with the skills to kill and the heart to discern when to use them. I really don’t know.
I don’t think I’m a bloodthirsty barbarian. But I really like seeing people beat each other up.