The Mark of Violence

Every contact leaves a trace; conflict changes us.

The mind, body and heart (used here to represent our emotions) are intrinsically linked; each feeding back, informing and influencing the other aspects of our selves. Exposure to violence, or even the threat or feeling of it, results in changes to our physiology and psychology.

In the short-term; fight or flight processes widely affect the body. Chemical changes and the associated adrenaline-rush provide immediate feedback and adaptations to our self-state to allow real-time reaction. The immediate aftereffects can cause changes to breathing rate and blood sugar, create feeling of sickness or leave us with shaking hands. Typically, these effects last no more than a few minutes to an hour.


In the medium term; changes to our mind dominate the feedback system. In the day or two following the conflict, we carry out both conscious and unconscious processes of self-assessment, sometimes suffering flashbacks; re-living the experience in our minds-eye (a process that can lead to/indicate PTSD). Our awareness and the depth of our experience of these processes is dependent on the severity, and our perception, of the stimulus.

In the long term, when the physical and intellectual processes have run their course, the lasting change is to our heart, to the part of us that governs our outlook and perception; the way we feel about, and subsequently interact with, the world around us.

It's not just unlawful or unexpected violence that changes us; there is a proportionate impact from 'casual' violence, such as experienced in our daily training as martial artists. Although the impact from our training is of a vastly lower level, there is a compounding factor that drip-feeds into our physiology and psychology over time.

Every contact leaves a trace.

Every punch or kick you throw instills muscle memory and neural connections. Training in combative skills normalizes the use of violence in both our minds and bodies, and also has an effect on our emotive state.

Our martial training often prepares us for the physical and intellectual impacts of violence in its various forms. What our training doesn't do; is give us the emotional experiences of unlawful or unexpected violence. Of course; we train in a positive environment, thus rightly lack the negative lens through which to experience and prepare.

The emotional experiences of violence typically require a more real-world stimulus in order to have significant effects upon our self-states. Preparing for the aftereffects and the personalisation of conflict is a much harder task than either practical or tactical training.

If I have a criticism of the martial arts, it's the modern glorification of violence. Every conflict leaves its mark; physically, emotionally, psychologically; each mark changes us. None of those marks are good, though they may be necessary and can certainly be useful; conditioning and hardening us for future violence.

I'm as guilty as anyone; testosterone and a typical male ego. Partly, we glorify violence because most of us understand that violence does in fact have honorable applications. But it's also because we are baser creatures of evolution; it's in our nature to revel in victory over others.

Righteous or not; each mark is an injury, and each of these injuries weakens us, even as we prepare for the next conflict. As our reality and perception changes; conflict and violence become an experience instead of a theory.

In real-life utilization of violence, there is a heightened responsibility on martial arts practitioners; ethically and morally, and often legally, for restraint and good judgement. It is imperative that we acknowledge the weight of our martial training for when we use our skills; we know more, we know better, and we lead the field.

As intellectual warriors, there is an imperative to ensure our view is from the conscious and self-aware mind and not part of our baser selves.

I don't want to suggest that the use of violence is only ever a last resort, as if it's solely a function of our more primitive selves, since there are countless examples of when the use of proportionate and appropriate force can, and does, prevent serious harm. The intellectual use of violence must be cognizant of the value of preemptive action.

At either a personal or state level, I would even go so far as to say there is more honor in the use of preemptive force, over reactive force, since it avoids a retaliatory mindset and necessitates rationalization. It is appropriate and necessary for both individuals and states to take action if, in doing so, it prevents greater harm.

I used to find it hard to find the intellectual balance between the peaceful and spiritual nature of the 'art', and the violent and destructive nature of the 'martial' aspects of my training. Then I began to put my training into practice.

I carry out a job in which I have regularly had to use violence in order to protect others or preserve peace. I have certainly been in situations where undoubtedly the use of violence has prevented greater harm. I have used violence to protect and defend, but never as a means of punishment or revenge.

But as honorable as that sounds, despite being defensible and necessary, there is no glory is these acts of violence. In many ways, each and every act of violence is a failure, not necessarily my own, since the need and necessity clearly exists, but in a broader sense of our society and humanity. The cause, but not the act, is honorable. Each act is a failure of something.

Those of us with the capacity and capability; so to, have a duty to turn it to positive action. The philosophy of our art teaches us to have courage and respect, and to turn failure into something positive; the art of resilience.

The Martial Arts teach resilience as a fundamental life skill, the lesson being an internal one of both mindset and character.

It's hard to teach resilience. Like many aspects of our training; it is a practice, not just a theory. Our education and understanding comes from 'doing'; from conscious action and application.

Not everyone in the dojang trains for actual conflict; after all, the Martial Arts are infinitely more than a study of the use of force. Ultimately though, the art of violence forms its fundamental foundation.

Serious Training changes the mindset.

As martial artists, we have less fear of the potential for injury; we've suffered harm before. We've known pain and discomfort, but also recovery, perseverance and our own ability to adapt. We've grappled and fought, choked and bled. We've gone home bruised but always come back the next day for more. We have a confidence in our ability and the conviction of our cause.

We have experience that lends calm to the chaos.

I've won more than one fight simply because of the look in my eyes. I've seen the confidence of bigger and more aggressive men fail in the face of that calm. It isn't simply about having confidence in ability; there's always someone out there bigger, stronger or better trained. There's no guarantee of winning a battle, physical or not, and believing otherwise is a false calm.

I've been accused of being reckless with my personal safety. It's a function of the warrior mindset being little understood. And to be fair, I've been lucky so far, but it's come close on more than a couple of occasions. I carry the marks of each of those conflicts.

For whatever skills, physical and psychological, I bring to the field, luck and circumstance are still more of a component than I'd care them to be. Eventually I will lose. Eventually, someone else will have to take over the fight.

My confession; I don't know how I'll handle that. Therein will lie a new test to my resilience.

More than simply our ability, what the warrior mindset is about; is having confidence in the integrity of our cause, the absoluteness of conviction in carrying out our duty, no matter the outcome. When you are the last line of defence, when the fight is just and the responsibility yours; what choice is there but to stand fast.

And in that moment of surrendering to fate, there exists a calmness of mind that makes you appear invincible; your conviction to the fight becomes more than your enemy's, and they become undone.

More often than people would imagine, the battle is fought and won without the violence.

My late headmaster, Chief Master Robert Banham, strongly believed that if you learnt how to harm, you should also learn how to heal. I agree; after all, at the heart of Han Mu Do philosophy is the concept of balance. It follows too; that if we learn how to win a fight, we should learn how to handle defeat. But therein lies a quandary, because as I've just explained, the warrior mindset has no room for doubt, or thoughts of defeat. If you enter a confrontation with a negative mindset, with anything other than absolute conviction, you are already on the defensive and have lost your advantage.

And so the mindset must be one of neutrality; of calmness, and acceptance, without expectation. Accepting the fight without expectations of the outcome.

Violence always leaves a mark. Without resilience, the marks build quicker and cut deeper. Neglecting the training of our psyche leaves us incredibly vulnerable on the field of battle. It's something that we should all talk about, something that we should cultivate and help each other with. We learn from each other's experiences, as well as our own. The more we understand the aftereffects and impacts of violence and conflict, the better we are able to choose our fights.

We must prepare for both victory and defeat, acknowledging and caring for the marks of violence already upon us. We must be conscious of our thoughts and actions, constantly checking our perspective and morality. In doing so, we can ensure we take on the right fights at the right times, accepting what will come; without fear or distraction of the outcome.

This is the mindset of the warrior.

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