It has become something of a tradition in certain martial arts circles to dabble in specific professions once one has been training for a certain length of time. These career choices are rarely healthy, however, and are rarely true to the spirit of the martial arts as I understand it.
When I was training in my late teenage years, the school I was attending at the time had a small group of black-belts. Most of these men worked as bouncers, and up-and-coming students were encouraged to consider this as a career move, and as a part of their training. The emphasis was on “testing one’s skills” in a live environment.
Likewise in close-protection and self-defence classes I have attended, there have been a great many police officers, or those who had applied to the police force, or wished to. There were also occasionally some wannabe military types, and in most of the “Reality-Based Self Defence” circles I touched on, there was a great deal of respect for the military, sometimes bordering on hero-worship.
I’m now going to explore the very negative aspects of being a bouncer, a police officer or a soldier, and explain some of the reasons why I consider such professions to be a bad career move for anyone, but particularly any student of the martial arts.
Let me preface this by stating unequivocally: I think there are extremely positive qualities within all three professions, and I’ve met some of the most pleasant and clever people in the martial arts who come from these professional backgrounds. I am not making a sweeping blanket statement here.
Nonetheless, the very character of the occupations raises serious moral and ethical questions, and should give anyone pause.
Let’s start off with door work:
I like bouncing, boing boing boing…
Let’s not beat about the bush. I’ve met some despicable bouncers; people who shouldn’t be allowed to stand at their own front door, let alone at a busy night-spot. Regulation has been tightened in the past few years, but only in terms of course-attendance and recognised body accreditation… there’s still no anti-ar*ehole filter. And an anti-ar*ehole filter would come in very handy, because what you have in door work is a situation in which tin-pot little idiots who fancy a power-trip can victimise vulnerable people, from a position of arbitrary power.
And going back to the topic at hand, historically, martial artists have become bouncers with the idea of “testing their skills”. The extremely naturally skilled (and extremely violent) Terry O’Neill in the ’60s and ’70s and the Self-defence guru and self-help author Geoff Thompson in the ’80s are poster-boys for this kind of “on-the job training”. But this is immoral and foolish. Practicing one’s martial skills on drunken people is both a poor training method for self-defence and bad bouncing. On the street, one should run away like a little roadrunner as a first option; one may not be facing a slow, drunken fool; and one won’t have a team of fellow bouncers to protect one if it all goes pear-shaped. It’s bad bouncing because a bouncer’s role should be to prevent a physical altercation if at all possible. By going in to one’s job with the desire to test this technique or that technique, one is already in the wrong mindset, and liable to encourage incidents towards the physical level either consciously or subconsciously.
The really famous bouncers often talk about learning late in their careers that non-violent solutions made their jobs a lot easier. Note: LATE in their careers.
In addition, even if one starts one’s bouncing career with the idea of training verbal de-escalation and awareness, and a desire to never ever take things to a physical level… there’s still the culture to contend with. Door work is full of machismo and bravado. If you were to spend the majority of time in that world, would you be unchanged by it? Even if you had the best intentions to begin with? I think not.
Frankly, if you really want to train self-defence aspects like verbal de-escalation, body-language reading and awareness… there are better professions, with healthier cultures. Why not become a teacher in an inner-city school if you want to train these things? You’ll learn to deal with young, aggressive people… and do some good at the same time. Fantastic. Or become a security guard in a hospital. Same job, without the ridiculous culture of martial machismo.
Second, we can deal with policing.
‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello. What’s all this then?
Superficially, being a policeman would seem the ideal profession for any martial artist. Helping to protect society from its more dangerous elements, a certain degree of physical skill and fitness required, verbal de-escalation skills training and non-violence as an ideal and all that.
But actually, this is a fallacy: The actual role of the police force is to enforce the law and to protect the state, not specifically to protect members of the public. Though certainly, some protecting does go on, though only as a side-effect of their law-enforcement role and public presence. Any single person’s experience will be limited, but in my experience- for what it’s worth- the police seem to have two or three major tasks in society today:
1. To turn up in force at peaceful public demonstrations, and cause as much trouble and violence as they possibly can via a range of immoral and dangerous techniques including “kettling” of protesters, aggressive riot police charges and even “agent provocateurs” as in the recently publicised case of Mark Kennedy.
2. To arrest people for extremely minor soft-drug offenses as often as they possibly can. (Good for their statistics.)
3. To hand out as many on-the-spot fines for minor offenses as their grubby little paws can scribble out, so as to enrich the state.
4. To arrest drunken yobs at the weekends.
Of these four, only the last is of any use to the public at all. And what would be more use is a sincere effort by government to change the drinking culture in this country… but I digress.
Add to this a similar set of problems as that found in the world of bouncers (machismo, elitist gang-mentality and excessive willingness to go physical) and you have a recipe for disaster.
Unless you fancy spending your time not catching criminals, beating up defenceless hippies and giving students criminal records… I’d select a different profession. There’s nothing to attract the martial artist towards policing.
Instead, why not work in social care? At least there you will be protecting the interests of actual members of the public, and trying to safeguard them. You’ll also touch on important self-defence areas like communication, recognising danger-cues in body language, learning verbal de-escalation, etcetera.
I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier…
I hate that song. Anyway, last on my hit-list is professional soldiering. Much of the self-defence/self-protection community idolizes the military, and for purely adolescent reasons: The idea of carrying a big gun around and shooting people is apparently cool to these people, and the idea of stabbing a nazi to death in occupied France is apparently extra-groovy. The usual Territorial Army (National Guard in the US) types, they fetishize the army and all the trappings of war. They train in “super secret commando” styles, like Krav Maga, World War II combatives and often some knife-based style or other, like Kali. (This is not to say that these styles are not valuable, merely that many of the people involved in them are dreadful little wannabe walt fanboys.)
Let’s be serious: The armed forces of today do not kill people within spitting distance, let alone punching distance. There are no martial arts from or in the military, except ranged weapon arts (like those involving firearms). The one thing that is great about military training for martial artists is the physical fitness. And hopefully, if you’re a decent martial artist, you’ve already got that covered.
So does the military “defend” anything? Sure. Once again, the army protects the interests of the state. These interests include acquiring lots and lots of money, resources and land for a tiny tiny wealthy minority that constitute real power in the state apparat.
If you have a noble idea of defending people and you want to help protect society, why not become an activist campaigning for legal change, equality, social mobility and inclusion?
The ideals of the martial artist should be the ideals of the martial arts: Non-violence, awareness, skill through training, physical conditioning and ever-expanding self-knowledge. None of the above three professions exemplify enough of these values to be useful, and above all, martial artists should be moral people. The upshot is: don’t go there.