May 12, 2008


Caption: Illustration from the Bubishi, an anonymous Chinese martial arts text of the 18th or 19th century sometimes referred to as "the bible of karate."

For the last two weeks, the theme here has been about writing to change things that should be changed or preserve things that should be preserved. There's also a daily dose of links and comments about current events.

I'd like to close off the series by taking some lessons from the martial arts and applying them to the subject of writing and working for social change or preservation. Why martial arts? Because unlike many things, they actually work and have proven themselves over the centuries in many difficult situations.

In trying to make things better, we are often faced with more powerful opponents. But the strategies developed by these arts can be great equalizers, provided people focus the energy they have at the right time and place.

Here's the first thing: think, write and act defensively.

Most martial artists spend a good bit of time sparring with highly skilled opponents. Sometimes it can get rough. But one invaluable lesson you get from that kind of practice fighting is immediate feedback. You learn "If I do this, they can do that" and vice versa.

Even if your sparring partner is your best friend, it is their sacred duty to nail you if you leave yourself open. It's your sacred duty to do the same, preferably before they nail you. After a while, you should start automatically acting in ways that create the smallest possible opening or opportunity for an opponent to attack (not to mention take advantage of any opening that occurs).

I remember when I first joined my current karate club over 30 years ago. It's a fighting dojo. While we're easy on kids and beginners, consenting experienced adults sometimes ramp it up. I was an intermediate student fighting a female black belt. I decided to dazzle her with my high kicking ability. She responded by kicking me in the groin while my foot was sailing around at head level.

I told you it could get rough. I wasn't expecting a move like that and hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. (Most dojos don't allow groin kicks in sparring, but ours did at the time. It was a great way of keeping kickers honest.)

That was one of the best lessons I ever had, although it didn't feel like it at the time. I've kicked a lot of people since then (recreationally and gently, for the most part) but I've been pretty careful about leaving myself open in that particular way. Thanks O., wherever you are! Sort of.

Similarly, when I was trying to learn the grappling arts of judo and jiu jitsu, I learned pretty quickly that if I let the opponent get behind me, I could expect to choked; if my balance was broken, I could expect to be thrown; and if my arm or leg was extended, it would be joint-locked.

This is something that people interested in trying to change things should always keep in mind and ask themselves at all times: if I say, do, or write this, what could an unsympathetic opponent do?

The idea is to present as small a target as possible--even better no target at all. If you don't, then don't be surprised if they respond in a way that can discredit and dismiss you and the change you are hoping to achieve.

That's just the way it works.

I've seen several groups adopt some ill-advised course of action, get clobbered for it, and then say "No fair!" Whoever said it was?

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE. Could contemporary economic and environmental ills push us in a more sustainable direction?

SPEAKING OF WHICH, Bill McKibben argues here that it's getting pretty close to now or never to get there. The alternative is unacceptable.

MOTHER'S DAY came and went, but pro-family policies haven't got here yet.

TRAUMA ON THE BRAIN. New research sheds light on the strenght and persistence of traumatic memories.

SPEAKING OF THE BRAIN, this article blames its engineering on some of our shortcomings.


1 comment:

People Power Granny said...

People Power Granny tonight tells us that in order to change the world, we have to live our lives right, while also going out into the world and getting politically involved by forcing our leaders to do the right thing....or by becoming a leader ourselves. Go to my site and vote in my poll on what is the best way to change the world for the better. How would you change the world.