What happens when you train in the martial arts or study self-defense, learn techniques designed for damaging human beings, but never develop the master’s trait of self-control. This story is true and highlights how, through our own lack of self-discipline, we can cause more damage to ourselves than we ever feared from an attacker in a self-defense encounter.
Today, I have a high number of parents bringing their children to me, along with many adult students, looking for lessons in self-discipline and self-control. The reason is because, even for the uninitiated members of the general public, the image formed when you think of a martial artist or someone learning self-defense includes that of a highly disciplined person.
But, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, we still have practitioner’s today who have missed the lessons of humility, discipline, respect, and self-control as a part of their training. And, those who do talk about learning and practicing self-control, are usually talking about the discipline that makes them practice or attend martial arts classes on a regular basis. Watch one of the popular mixed martial arts (MMA) or other fight-challenge programs, and what you’ll see are people who brag about their abilities, bad-mouth other people, and routinely get themselves into fights outside of the ring.
The story that I’m about to tell you is one-hundred percent true. It actually happened to me. And the most amazing things were that:
1) The attacker was a black belt martial artist who professed to be learning self-defense, and…
2) I was an on-duty police officer at the time!
I kid you not!
You see, I was stationed in, what was then, West Germany with the United States Army. I was a military policeman working the night shift, when my partner and I got a radio call, dispatching us to a particular unit. The call was in reference to a combative soldier who was drunk and disorderly. Apparently the soldier was in the process of attacking officers and screaming racial slurs.
When we arrived at the scene, what we found was a soldier who was VERY drunk. The man was not only taller than me by almost four to six inches (I’m 5′ 6″), but he was also very muscular. The officer on-duty for that unit was trying to calm him down, and my partner and I were attempting to find out why he was ranting and raving when we arrived.
At the sight of two armed police officers entering the area, it was almost if a switch had been thrown in this man’s head – a switch that triggered the “bad-ass” personality. Because, as soon as he saw me, he locked on and headed straight for me. My partner was busy trying to get details from other witnesses so we could use the information in a way that would de-escalate the situation and get the man calmed down.
Before the soldier got within reach of me, he suddenly stopped and realized that I had shifted my position to prepare for whatever was to come. I never broke eye contact (never a good idea, especially against someone who is trying to dominate with their spirit and intensity), and when he saw this, he stopped and his demeanor changed.
Who knows, maybe it had more to do with the fact that I was wearing a .45 caliber pistol on my right hip and a two foot long nightstick hung from my left. Either way, and just for a minute, he seemed to reassess his situation and tone down his energy level.
I proceeded to ask him what happened to which he started to convey the story that he was out with some friends from his unit. They were out drinking to celebrate the fact that he tested for, and earned his black belt that day. His story, and his anger flared again when he told me that they were all screwing around after they departed the club when it got rough and his friends ganged up on him and threw him down on a gravel walkway.
I outwardly congratulated him on earning his black belt while inwardly thinking that it never a good idea for a black belt to get intoxicated. There’s way too many things that can go wrong and, with the alcohol coursing through your system, regardless of how “well” you feel, the fact remains that you simply will not have the same coordination, control, or focus should you be attacked. And besides, wouldn’t that be the perfect time for someone who really wants to take you out to attack – when you aren’t functioning at a hundred percent?
But, something happened. As he was describing the situation, his attitude changed again. As he was trying to describe the incident, he seemed to be dancing around exactly how things got started or why they got “rough.” As his agitation grew, he started to tell me that he was a black belt and didn’t have to prove how tough he was. He told me that, that was the point of training – to be disciplined, respectful, and in control of yourself so that you didn’t get yourself into messes like this.
As I was agreeing with him, he went into a sudden tirade about how tough “I” thought I was because I wore a badge and a gun – that I wouldn’t be so tough without the nightstick and the firearm. I attempted to calm him down but he seemed to lock onto the fact that I was armed and that I was trying to appear more “tough” than him in an attempt to intimidate him.
To this, I took a step back and assured him that I wasn’t trying to intimidate him. As he continued to point out the weapons, I told him that I’d hand my nightstick and helmet to my partner. When he continued on about the gun, I reminded him that, “the gun stays.”
No sooner did I hand over my nightstick and turn back toward the drunken soldier, he moved in on me, telling me how he didn’t need to prove how tough he was, but he was going to show me how tough I wasn’t!
Well, long-story short, I didn’t prove that I was tougher, but he DID end up, face-down on the floor in handcuffs. But, the worst was yet to come – for him. And, you know what… I really felt bad for him, for a minute.
What happened next should never happen to anyone – tough-guy or not. While we were trying to restrain the still belligerent soldier on the floor, who should walk through the door but… His wife and young son!
They had to witness their drunken, obnoxious, and out-of-control husband and father being taken away in handcuffs. And all I could do was look at the woman and move my lips to the words, “I’m sorry.”
This would be bad enough, if the story ended right here. If the worse that happened was that this new black belt and military soldier – this man who should have developed discipline from two different directions – lost his self-control after drinking too much and then lost his temper after his friends took advantage of his condition. If that was the worst, it would still have been pretty bad.
But you know what. As a cop, I saw this kind of thing all the time. It really wouldn’t have been much of a story if it weren’t so commonplace. But, this story wasn’t commonplace. It turned out to be nothing short of disgraceful.
We later learned that the soldier and his friends did, indeed, go out to celebrate his new promotion to black belt. However, the story that he told us from there, was anything BUT the truth.
It seemed that, once the soldier got some drinks into him, he began to strike and kick at his friends. They asked him to stop to which his actions became more aggressive until finally the friends took action and had to knock him down to get him to stop using his “karate-moves” on them.
After that, all hell broke loose as he felt like he was disrespected. In fact, what had happened was that this man never exercised good judgment in the first place when he decided to go out into public, bragging about his martial art rank and skills in the art of self-defense. He exercised even less discipline when he allowed himself to get drunk to the point where his childish actions cause his friends to attack him out of self-defense.
And finally, his lack of self-discipline and self-control caused him further humiliation as he had to be drug out of a building by police, right past his wife and son. They had to watch as he was arrested and jailed, not just for drunk and disorderly conduct, but for assault on a police officer, assault on commissioned officers, and for acts unbecoming a member of the armed forces.
All because he never learned the first lesson – the first level of self-defense – respect and self-discipline.
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