I’m a minister and a pastor. I’m not supposed to advocate violence, yet I teach combat. I have on occasion taught the rare self defense class though in all honesty I’m not big on self defense. Self defense only goes so far and when addressing the violence of the serious street predator isn’t enough to deal with the level of aggression such people bring to the table. The bottom line is that defense doesn’t win the fight.
In the neighborhoods I grew up in violence was a serious and ever present reality. Confrontations and all out violence were often the rule rather than the exception. One either learned to deal with it or they were dealt by with it. I chose not to be a victim. I learned to fight and I did it both well and often. It didn’t take much to set me off.
My concept of fighting didn’t involve black eyes, split lips or bloody noses. Instead it dealt with hospitals, emergency rooms or worse. A double deployment into real combat leached some of if not all of that type of killer attitude out of me. During that time I saw enough blood and devastation to live a lifetime. All these years later I am still dealing with the aftermath of that experience. Still I can have a confrontational nature and I work hard to harness my aggression.
I like to label myself a pacifist but in all honesty that isn’t the reality. If I allow my nature full reign I can be extremely aggressive and will resort to violence. I have some pent up hostility that I try to keep bottled up. I’ve managed to keep from being killed in the streets or locked up in prison all these years and I’d like to keep it that way. Besides violence goes against the image I want to convey so I keep that tiger in its cage.
As a Christian I do try to shy away from violence. I live in a much better place but I am often required to go into some rather violent neighborhoods. My church is in a really rough area and some of the people I deal with even within the congregation I serve are of rather questionable temperaments. On occasion I am called on to deal with some challenging situations and on the rare occasion I am faced with aggression or I am challenged. By challenged I don’t mean threatened. I don’t deal well with threats. I have a tendency to take any threat seriously and if I feel the threat is really serious I’m subject to deal with it decisively then and there. When challenged I try to keep a level head and deal with it in a competent but non confrontational manner. I have learned to defuse or deescalate a situation before it becomes a real problem. Violence in the places that I often frequent is generally total and complete. People there tend to react violently and brutally if such situations are allowed to run their course. Should a fight incur it will generally end with someone seriously hurt or worse.
I don’t like to fight. I don’t care for physical or even verbal altercations. I couldn’t always say that. I was violent as a youth and as a young man. Fortunately those days are safely behind me. In affect I spend a lot of my time training for a fight that (God willing) will probably never happen. Though I like to consider myself, if not a complete pacifist, at least a nominal one. I don’t like fighting but if backed in a corner I will fight and if I fight I don’t fight as a preacher or as a Christian. If I have no alternative I revert back to the viscous animal state that I entertained in the side streets and back allies of Chicago’s inner city. That’s why I avoid the situations that might degenerate into such a confrontation.
I don’t fight but I know how to fight and likewise I know how to teach others how to fight. As a martial art instructor I literally teach two different systems. I teach a martial art. It can be used aggressively and it can translate into the physicality of combat but that isn’t why I teach it. I use it as a tool to shape and develop character and integrity into young (and sometime not so young) human beings. On the other hand I teach a system that translates into raw combat. More often than not I teach that art to police officers, security personnel and people in other high risk professions. I also teach a watered down version of that art for self defense and personal security. I can teach those arts because I understand the hows and whys of violence.
I worked in mental health, in hospital security and in the penal system for a number of years. Those professions often required me to be hands on with what I know and teach. In those professions I’ve seen a number of coworkers hurt or badly injured. My training has put me in good stead in those professions. Other than the occasional bump or bruise I never accrued an injury during the inevitable confrontations that go with the job. I can also say that I have never hurt a patient or seriously injure an inmate.
Fighting isn’t brain surgery but in its purest state it can be an art. There’s a grace and beauty in it when it’s done scientifically but in the end violence is nasty and ugly. I hear martial artists cavalierly speaking of injuring, maiming or killing someone as if it were a game. Unless you’re a sociopath taking someone’s life is going to affect you severely. I can tell you that from experience. These days we have a lot of martial arts teachers teaching something that they’ve never done as if they have a complete understanding of it. You have people teaching fighting who have never had a fight in their life. I’ve actually had occasion to disarm knife and gun wielding opponents. Lest you think I’m boasting on my physical prowess let me balance that out. I’ve been shot twice and I’ve been both cut and stabbed. As a young man I was beaten within an inch of my life by multiple opponents. I found out firsthand that one person combating fifteen or sixteen people successfully works a h*** of a lot better on the screen than on the streets.
So let me explain why we shouldn’t fight. I can only speak for the streets of Chicago but the same probably hold true not only for most of the major cities in our nation but in many small towns and even in rural areas. Let me again use myself as an example. So many of my friends ended up in prison or dying in the streets. Considering that I’ve been in some very dangerous situations both in the military and in the streets it’s probably the grace of God that I didn’t meet a similar end than a result of my own rather dubious physical prowess. I would like to keep my record intact. It’s kind of late in the day to be gracing the tiers of our prisons (it was bad enough working there) and there’s no future in being shot down in the streets. That’s why I don’t allow myself to be drawn into a physical altercation. Everyone who knows me know that fighting me wouldn’t be the best idea they’ve ever had. Consequently in such a situation they are going to enter into it trying to even the odds. That means I’m going to have to get really critical in order to survive such a situation. Not only that but the way people are today if you beat them in a fair fight they are going to come back strapped to address their loss. I’m not going to walk around looking over my shoulder and waiting for the probable reprisal to successfully defending myself. That means I’m going to feel compelled to end any fight with the other person either being critically injured or killed. In such a scenario there’s more than a small chance that I’ll have to justify my response before a court of law.
So why is it wise not to fight? A fight will end either of several ways. It could end up with both of you walking away with one or the other as the victor but will that be the end of it? On the other hand one or the other of you will be seriously hurt or killed and the other will very probably have to answer for it. Ask yourself if either of those scenarios is acceptable to you.
As martial artists we have to strive for peace but on the rare occasion peace will evade us. If backed in a corner you have no choice. You’ll have no choice but to fight for your life. In that case if you’re able to you’ll do what you have to. My advice in such a situation is to fight like your very life depends on it. Chances are it may. Don’t fight tentatively. Give it everything you have. You can’t fight effectively while worrying about what will happen afterwards. As most of us have heard any number of times, “It’s better to be tried by twelve than to be carried by six”. That’s true but hopefully as a trained martial artist you have the mental dexterity to not let it degenerate to that. You don’t want things to degenerate to only those two alternatives. To what ever extent that you can you have to control a situation so that it doesn’t come down to that. Fight if you must. Fight for your life. Fight for friends, family or loved ones. Fight for the weak and helpless. Fight for what is right. But if at all possible be men and women of peace.
God bless you, my martial art brethren.
Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel