Semantics can be a funny thing–reference the title, above: On the one hand, it could mean ‘fighting on even though one is injured’ or ‘enduring in the face of adversity.’ On the other hand it could mean ‘using injury as a tool when fighting’ or ‘dirty pool.’ Chances are you read it one way, and not the other; which way you read it, on autopilot, isn’t up to me, the message-bearer. How you see it is something that happens entirely inside your own skull.
So, same words, two very different meanings. And no way for me to tell which way it’s gone.
An essential problem we have in teaching and training violence is that most people have no real experience with the concept. (This is only a bad thing in the context of training. In the context of daily life, it’s a good thing that the vast majority of people never experience violence to the degree we mean when we say the word… unlike, say, the population of Rwanda.) It is the never-ending job of the instructor to clue people in, give them physical examples to connect to the words, and to do our best to connect it to everyday experiences. (Like mentioning the ‘funny bone’ when we talk about nerve targets–nearly everyone’s whacked their ulnar nerve hard enough to momentarily kill their hand.) Recently, however, it occurred to me that when speaking of the difference between sport and violence, martial arts and murder, competition and destruction, we’ve been coming from the wrong side of the argument.
While most people have not experienced life-changing violence, many have, at one time or another, experienced injury in sport. Whether as adults or children, we’ve all taken a hard hit, been knocked ass-over-tea-kettle, and/or had the wind knocked out of us. We’ve been contused, lacerated, pulled muscles, tweaked joints and taken a bump on the head that made us see stars. And we’ve all gotten back up, shook it off, walked it off, and pressed on and fought through for personal honor, for toughness, for the team, or maybe just because we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.
As nasty as some of those things may have felt, or seemed, or been they were not injuries as we must define them for violence–if you were able to push through and overcome the physical symptoms with force of will you were definitely hurt (perhaps even enough to make someone else quit) but you were not injured the way we mean it when we’re talking violence.
If you’ve lived a full enough life to experience the above, you’ve probably had the misfortune of seeing the other side of it–people broken in such a way that no force of will, no matter how strong, can change the state they find themselves in. They’re out cold, or flopping around incoherent, or screaming nonsensically; the match is stopped, the game is paused as medical personnel rush to the fallen’s aid. They don’t walk off the field triumphantly, they’re carried to the hospital.
At a recent live training I recognized some ‘sporting types’ among the clients–people who were wearing gear associated with martial arts, full-contact and no-holds-barred-style competitions. It can be hard to make our case to such people–when I say ‘violence’ and ‘injury’ they nod like they know but it’s very often a different picture they see in their head. They see the hard-won results they know can only be achieved in the ring through bigger-faster-stronger, and they are usually skeptical of injury as a show-stopper if only because of the number of times they themselves have ‘fought through injury’ and won the match in spite of their ‘injuries.’
Instead of my usual competition vs. destruction rant I simply asked the question:
“How many of you have taken a hit, had the wind knocked out of you, seen stars, had something hurt like crazy in a game or match and yet you were able to fight through it, keep playing, continue to compete, etc.?”
Most people raised their hands. I was actually a little bit surprised by that. So far so good.
Then I asked:
“How many of you have seen someone go down in a match or game such that they couldn’t get back up, the refs went crazy trying to stop the game so medical personnel could get to them, and they had to leave the field on a stretcher and go straight to the hospital?”
Fewer people raised their hands, but still a goodly amount.
“Okay,” I said, “In violence, we’re only ever interested in the second one.”
And then I added, “Because, as you all know, you can shake off the first one, no problem.”
I swear my third eye was blinded by all the psychic light bulbs going off. Everybody got it. Everybody. And I didn’t even have to argue the point.
Best of all, the most hardcore of the competitors lost their skepticism and became acutely interested in getting to work.