I wrote a story a while back about pirates and militias, and the role of the martial artist, in certain time periods, as a guardian. This idea has been with me for a very long time, due perhaps to my love of fantasy novels. The story of the hero who protects the village, or slays the dragon, is an old one, and I also touched on that cycle in a post on this blog, “Mixed Martial Arts and the Hero’s Journey.”
I wrote the former essay during the media frenzy following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After that shooting, it seemed as if every day another report about police shooting unarmed men – mostly black, a few white – came tumbling through my social media feeds. In each report, police aggression was clear and apparent. The police seemed eager to pull the trigger, eager to escalate the situation. As if they had been waiting for this opportunity for some time, and now finally had the chance to “fuck someone up” – I found myself more and more drawn to the fantasy of a militia with morals, with a code, with the discipline of a master, or an MMA fighter … a force made up of people who used force so often, in controlled settings, that the tendency to escalate a situation has been beaten out of them so to say.
This idea is riddled with problems. War Machine, an MMA fighter who brutally beat his estranged girlfriend, is a quick and available example of what can happen even to so called “disciplined” fighters who have the training and the experience to use violence sparingly.
In my initial dealings with martial arts, I found the overwhelming majority of Chinese kungfu masters to be pacifists with the ability to hurt people, but very little inclination to do so. Over time, I realized that the men and women I had met were special, and that “well water and river water” ran together in kungfu as well , as even the most inane kungfu movies point out within the first few minutes.
Martial arts training does not preclude bullying, in fact it just may enable bullies just as often as it neutralizes them.
The argument I’ve heard, and I would myself espouse if asked, is that martial arts does in fact teach discipline, honor, ethics, as well as the ability to defend and attack – but only if the teachings are learned completely … I just recently downloaded the “despecialized” versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, and defeat at the hands of Vader is the obvious result of Luke Skywalker leaving Yoda before his training is complete …
Right now, to dream of militia with the discipline and honor of samurai-paladins that could protect and serve where now the police intimidate and shoot is something for a novel, a comic book, or a rambling post on a martial arts blog. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about it. In the article I wrote for Fightland about this, “Pirates and Heroes: The Enduring Role of the Martial Artist,” it was the sheer number of MMA practitioners that led me to the idea that there may be a job for those who retire and do not have a gym to run, or those who don’t make it to the top and require some sort of day job to finance their lives. And that isn’t completely ridiculous: that mixed martial artists could enter the police force, or the National Guard, or just the security guard field. In fact, there is a lot of overlap here in China between the two fields (security and martial arts) and it makes sense that it does elsewhere.
But it’s not the militia aspect, nor the security guard part of this dream that attracts me. I dream of the heroic code, the small town samurai-sheriff, the band of peace keeping yeomen and women who act like the Avengers when needed, and melt back into society when not. It’s ridiculous, I know. And as I write this I wonder how in the hell am I going to end this essay and make it worth anyone’s while to read it, and worth my while to keep typing.
There isn’t really any way to end it. I read a story in the NYT about Camden, and that is probably as realistic as it gets in today’s world: a community that pulled itself out of the depths of crime and violence and built a police force up from scratch. The force has a code, a purpose, and a “Way” that has made life much, much easier for residents of that town. It is exactly the mundane details of Camden’s turnaround – the way police walk the streets instead of drive them, the purging of the old force and the hiring of completely new recruits, the way the community actually had a say in how things progressed – that make me believe that a police force with martial arts training could exist and be effective on a grassroots level.
And by martial arts training I am not talking about kicks and locks, but actually as much time (if not more) spent on the legends that have molded our ideas of what a kungfu master is, who a samurai aspires to be. The stories and myths that build the hero identity within the martial arts world could be so useful and inspiring to officers of the law, because instead of building up their identity as they go (an identity further and further removed from the community with each criminal act, with each criminal let go, with each suspicious glance from a suspicious populace), police could walk into their first day on the job with an identity and role forged from the heroes of the past. From centuries of legends about the centurion who watches in the night while the bad guys scurry about.
This type of “be the hero out there guys” palaver probably already happens, and gets chucked out the window at the first encounter with crime and blight. That’s reality. And that’s too bad, because the way the police and the community interact in America right now, in many cities, is poisonous and we could use a strategy, or an ideal to help pull us back from the brink.
I’ll think more about this, and see if there is a convergence between the comic books and real life somewhere. Till then I’ll dream of … what? Of Burning Man bands of martial artists patrolling with a smile, while flowers grow and children laugh and bad guys stop, see the light, and bounce Tiny Tim on their knees in the light of Christmas morning.