Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I don’t much doubt my ability to communicate with the written word. It is an amazing tool and with practice it gets better. But this is the nature of the beast, the nature of what I teach and talk about: it is scary as all hell. It is death and annihilation.  Not just facing your own demise, that’s easy, but the fact that you may face your final years blind or crippled or with the memory of having crawled or begged.

Teachers don’t talk about it, usually. But we all know that this is what it is. This is where it all might go. Because of that, because of its nature, people are almost infinitely creative in ways to NOT think about it. If you read “With the Old Breed on Peleliu and Okinawa” E. B. Sledge describes it perfectly: “…men had squared away their gear and had done their last-minute duties: adjusting cartridge belts, pack straps, leggings, and leather rifle slings—all those forlorn little gestures of no value that released tension in the face of impending terror.”

Fiction, movies, martial arts, late night fantasies- putting this impending terror and pain into boxes, pretty boxes small enough to hold in your brain.

This is the busy work of the monkey mind.  The obsession with perfect form, the martial arts politics, the bickering over lineage, treating instructors like gods and your training as The Truth are all just different ways to hide your brain from what this is.

I don’t doubt that I can describe the technique in the written word. But this isn’t about technique.  This is why I teach individuals and in person- because I have to be there to see when the mind wanders, when developing a skill becomes an obsession to hide behind or when they are doing something to avoid seeing something else. I have to hold what it is and what they are doing before them at all times. In the written word, no matter how strong the truth or how limited the bullshit, there is always enough weasel room that it can become a place to hide behind surface knowledge, a way to ignore while pretending to see- or just fodder for a fantasy.

Because this is my amulet- to hold up what I know about this by its slimy neck and look at it without flinching. Knowing it will kill me some day and refusing to look away.  I choose to believe that if I poke at the dark places and wade in the shit I will understand it, at least a little. And that will let me control it, at least a little.


Kai Jones said...

Ooh, good thinking meat: What's my box? I need to spend some time on this. Thanks!

Unknown said...

This one got me thinking, gloomy, and flooded with memories. For myself, I'm not as optimistic about putting words together to communicate my experience of things.

I'm curious about my waning interest in ways people use defense mechanisms and lie to themselves about 'what is'. I can't seem to summon any disgust or concern about 'fluff and puffs' ruminating about perfect form and fantasies of 'glory'.

I don't know whether violence on the street or sitting with survivors of violence in my office has taken more out of me. Not sure physical violence is necessarily 'more dangerous' than interpersonal violence. Not sure how many people are willing to take seriously such a statement.

Maybe it's PTSD or feeling jaded.

I like the monkey mind concept and boxes. Not sure what my boxes are right now. I know a 7 yo with a gun can do me him before I ever sensed it. Lowering my guard for a second is enough time for two teenagers to knock me into an oncoming truck.

I'm hard-pressed to remember last time I felt 'safe'. Maybe I'm Jackson Browne...'kept my eyes open for too long'. Couldn't resist the absurdity of injecting JB into this one.

Gotta think about this one Rory

Rory said...

When's a good time to call and what is your adjustment from GMT?

Richard said...

There is probably a good reason why the mind shields itself from the terror of being fully aware of the potential and implications of hard violence in their lives. Think about the various forms of anxiety. While movies are only movies, they can sometimes be useful for illustration. In "the brave one" IIRC a happy-go-lucky woman has her blinders violently torn off when she and her boyfriend get stomped by a bunch of thugs, killing him and sending her in a bad shape to the hospital. After that she can't get her mind to go into denial anymore, maybe just a function of the proximity in time but the undeniable realization is that all ANYONE has to do in order to harm her, is decide to do it, because she has also learned that she lacks fighting skill. And this leaves her with severe fear of people and open places, well until the plot goes Charles Bronson. Seems like the opposite end of the problem.

While I've never experienced that level of it, most if not all my experiences with fear concerning people, wether socially or physically violent in nature, has been connected with percieving an inability to dominate, and thus being in danger. Convincing myself that I could dominate alleviated any such fears. Even if I was just bullshitting myself. Something I spent a lot of time trying to do, but hopefully my ability to notice that and slap myself for it has improved at this point.