The old have a tendency to do a lot of reminiscing. At sixty six I find myself looking back over my life. There are some things that I am quite proud of, but there are a lot of things that I regret. Some of the things that I regret weren’t choices. Much of what I did was simply for survival in a dangerous environment.
Back in the day there was a detective series called ‘The Concrete Jungle’. Usually when we think of a jungle we think in terms of dense rain forest inhabited by a host of beasts and predators that would kill you or devour you alive. That was the environment I grew up in minus the rain forest. Poverty, desperation and hopelessness tend to make for a dangerous environment. The neighborhoods I grew up in were uncompromising and unforgiving. I watched more than one of my friends being cut down by the streets. It is simply by the grace of God that I survived and even thrived with the life I lived. Out of necessity I learned to fight. I’m not talking about play ground scraps or bar room brawls. I’m talking about fighting for survival. More than once I was left a broken bleeding heap in the streets. At least once I was left for dead but as you see I’m still here. Like the old Timex commercial used to say, take a licking and keep on ticking.
I am the survivor of a real war with a couple of tours of duty in some unsavory places but I never took the beating there that I took in my everyday life. I experienced some traumatic experiences during my military career but I managed to get out minus shrapnel or bullet holes. Not so in the streets. I’ve been shot, stabbed, knocked in the head and ran down since I mustered out of the service. Out there running with the big dogs as they used to say on the corner.
As a rule I don’t brag about my exploits. Not that there is that much to brag about. I was never a tournament champion. I fought in a few point tournaments and a number of intra school semi contact matches. I found them uninteresting. After fighting in the streets I found them unrealistic. There were occasions that I lost to opponents that I would massacre in a real street fight. I did some amateur boxing and I wrestled in school. That’s the extent of my experience in sports. I can’t claim the experience of some men, but I have fought in some nasty pit fights. They were rowdy and brutal affairs fought in barns, old warehouses, and empty fields or on barges. Wherever they could be held without interference from the law. I’m sure that there were some bribes and more than a few palms were greased in the process. They were illegal since they were supported by bets and wagers. I did well in them but I was better trained than the individuals that I fought. That isn’t to say that the fighters weren’t tough. Most were experienced street fighters, bouncers, enforcers, brawlers and any and everything in between. I did need the money but that wasn’t my real purpose for fighting. I wanted to test some of the ideas that I was developing then. Those ideas along with the input of a number of local martial art instructors would form the core of the system that I teach now. I fought off and on for a couple of years and I fared well enough. I took some beatings but I never lost a match.
Again I won’t try to bill myself as some kind of fighting champion. I wasn’t fighting the caliber of fighters that the fore mentioned fighters did. I see all of the grief that some of them get by recounting their experience. I don’t need that. I’m pretty sure that they don’t either but notoriety brings some pretty harsh backlash.
I am not a fighter. I’ll go out of my way to avoid a fight. I’m a minister and for the most part I left that behind with my former life. I was gang related as a youth and participated in more gang fights and all out brawls than I care to think about. I’ve worked as a bouncer, a collector, an enforcer, a body guard and a personal security specialist. In my career I worked as a psych tech, therapist, a crisis counselor, prison chaplain and as a university hospital policeman. All of those professions offer a number of opportunities for physical confrontation. Fortunately all of that is in my past.
Unfortunately I’ve had a couple of violent situations in the last few that led to physical altercations. On those occasions I had to defend myself. I can’t really call them fights. I dealt with the situations without getting hurt and without seriously hurting my attackers. I’m more proud of that then of any violent victories that I’ve managed. In a fight there is never really a winner. Violence is bad for everyone involved whether the loser or the victor. There is nothing noble about fighting.
I listen to a lot of martial artists snarling, growling and beating their chests. They brag about all of their physical prowess and expertise. I wonder how many of them have been in a life or death confrontation. Without putting them down I wonder how well would most of them fare in the back allies and concrete jungles of the inner cities of any major city. I’ve seen some of the real life gangsters, prisoners and back ally brawlers. I was one of them at one time. How many of them have ever been in a real knife fight? How many of them have been shot, cut or stabbed? How many of them have had to take a human life barehanded or with a weapon. I’ve been there and as they say, “it ain’t nothing nice”. No sane individual would want to go there. It isn’t like the movies. It’s nasty and down and dirty.
All I want to do in my old age is live my life in peace. I’m not proud of many of the things I’ve done but I am the sum total of all of those experiences whether positive or negative. Given the chance to do it all over again I would have walked a different path entirely. I lived a crazy life but that was in my past. Through it all I had the martial arts. To a large extent that’s what kept me from going off the deep end. Later I reaffirmed my faith and answered the calling on my life. I became a minister and accrued graduate and post graduate degrees in various religious studies. That is my primary life focus now. I’m a minister and pastor and a licensed and ordained minister. I still train and occasionally I’ll do a little teaching. Now days I spend most of my time in the arts focusing on the growth and day to day operations of the martial art organizations that I head or represent. I spend more time dealing with the philosophies of the arts than in actually teaching techniques. I have a few select students that I teach and I’ll do the occasional seminar but more of my teaching is accomplished in doing hat I’m doing now, writing and mentoring.
I have much to account for in my past but I try to balance out the ill that I’ve done by the good that I do now. You can’t earn or work your way into heaven but I can try to even the scales.
In the end we all teach by precept and example. In my instance God’s word and the philosophies and teachings of the martial arts are the precept but I offer myself up as the example. I pray that in my old age I will be a good one.
God bless you, my brethren. Train hard and go with God.