Without Writing

The art of writing without writing… about fighting.

Q & A on the Ephemerality of Niceness

After having read my previous blog post, a friend of mine e-mailed me the following query:

“because you have honed your fighting skills you are free to be nice to everyone as you no longer fear others or at least don’t fear them as much. The reason being that you are pretty sure that you could beat them in a fight or at least defend yourself from any kind of attack that they may throw at you. What would happen if you stopped training or could not fight anymore?”

And it’s an interesting and valid question. If being confident in one’s ability to stop the physical attacks of others makes one more relaxed and friendlier,  what happens if… or rather when that ability disappears? Even if one does the right thing and carries on training, it will disappear. Even if we avoid crippling injury or illness, we all grow old eventually.

An example: In his heyday, Gene LeBell demolished knuckleduster wielding pro-boxers, tied Bruce Lee up in knots and made Steven Seagal poop his pants… but today he’s just shy of eighty years old. It’s a fair bet that a couple of young untrained and undisciplined thugs could mug him and steal all his candy if they were so inclined, and all his nearly incomparable decades of experience probably wouldn’t be enough to save him from a hearty beating.

So no matter how skilled one becomes, it’s a temporary advantage. So is a confidence based on physical skill merely an illusion? Or is it too temporary a thing to be taken seriously?

There are two possible answers; the first answer is  “Yes, when one becomes more infirm and more vulnerable to attack, one probably will feel more fearful of drunk people, yobs and other ne-er-do-wells… and as a result of this drop in confidence one probably won’t be as genuinely friendly to them as one might have been when one could crush a tortoise between one’s pinkies”. If this is true, then it’s just another tough truth. I mean, older people do tend to become more fearful of others as they advance in age. It’s something that does happen. Perhaps it’s unavoidable.

The second answer is: It may be (and it’s impossible to say for certain, ahead of time) that once one has transcended one’s insecurities regarding physical attack (due to one’s physical skill), one can then turn one’s attention wholly to developing those higher martial skills that I wrote about in the previous post, the so-called “soft skills” of relating to people in a positive way, constructive forms of conflict management, mastery of de-escalation and a calming personal presence, etcetera. One can address these issues with much more freedom as long as one’s ability to back oneself up with physical force lasts.

And hopefully, once one has grown old and grey, one will have developed those “soft skills” enough so that you will simply never have to resort to physical force anyway, so the lack of hard-skills won’t matter.

Sadly, I doubt that any level of mental or spiritual training can ever totally armour you against physical threat. I think the truth is a mixture of both of the answers above: 

If you become truly confident in your own physical skills it can give you the power to be nice to people you couldn’t be nice to before… and that both makes you less likely to be attacked, and frees you up to develop even more potent soft-skills in the future, so that perhaps in your old age those soft-skills can replace some of the physical skills you will inevitably lose… but you’ll never be 100% safe. And that may well play on your mind as you grow old, causing you to fear others more and grow less confident, growing less able to relate to the young, the intoxicated, the aggressive and the boisterous in the process.

But I fear that’s just life. And if it is a wholly temporary euphoria, I have to say that I’d rather have a long period of well-bolstered confidence  in my physical prime… than not.

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2 responses to “Q & A on the Ephemerality of Niceness

  1. Scott Probst 2012, September 26 at 10:23 pm

    Damn interesting topic. I found myself much less paranoid and much more relaxed after some time in Kokushin karate. I think it was a combination of doing some sparring and one knockdown tournament (I lost), and, strangely enough, not being so grossly concerned about the idea of someone hitting me. I don’t think that this is the only route to this kind of attitude, as I also credit a lot of time spent meditating for a lot of this change – you learn to spot the difference.between what is really going on and what you’re simply worried about.

    • withoutwriting 2012, September 27 at 12:09 am

      Good point. And a valid point for self defence. It seems to me to make good sense that one must deal with stress not just by exposure to stressful situations and stimuli (to reduce the associated fear), but also by dealing internally with one’s mental reaction to those stimuli. (How you deal with whatever level of fear that remains.)

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