I began my journey into the martial arts with boxing, purely as a fitness project. Boxing is a high intensity sport performed at short intervals, which is excellent for both weight management and overall cardiovascular fitness. And beating the crap out of bags and pads and other people is immensely satisfying. I connected spiritually with fighting almost immediately, thanks to my very violent childhood, and much of my early journey was actually quite difficult. My only experience with violence is as a helpless victim of it, and that can be a challenging place to be, psychically.
Boxing opened my mind to violence, not as a sport, but as self-defence. My right to defend myself quietly asserted itself, and I moved from boxing to Krav Maga. Krav Maga was developed as a combat technique. It is brutal, cruel and devastating. It was an excellent choice for me, because I needed to come to peace with the utter savagery of violence as a practitioner. That was something I personally needed to do. Other people will have other journeys and need different things. I needed the extreme violence of Krav Maga, at least in the beginning. I had a great instructor who taught me some important things about acceptance and obedience, but once I made the mental journey into the darkest corners of my mind, I found I craved light. Light that Krav Maga could not give me.
Combat martial arts are, by definition, brutal. The end result is to kill the enemy combatant. In training, you obviously only play at death, but many techniques, applied fully, are lethal. In Krav Maga, every technique, carried to the end, is intended to cause death. It’s meant for combat. Through a series of serendipitous events, I met another trainer locally who practices a form of combat hapkido, which is clearly also engaged with lethal techniques, but he has combined it with many control and contain techniques drawn from various other forms of martial arts, and he teaches techniques on a force continuum, meaning we learn how to use techniques relatively gently, and then with escalating force. He also has a degree in philosophy and very much engages us in philosophical, moral and ethical debates around what we are training to do. So, for example, what if Grandma, who has dementia, gets confused and frightened and tries to stab you with a carving knife she is supposed to use to slice the ham? You don’t punch Grandma in the throat. You need to take the knife away, not frighten her further and you must try not to hurt her.
This is where I have found my martial arts home. I am deeply drawn to the ethical and moral considerations around what I am training to do. I want to have these conversations with other fighters and I want to train and fight with men and women who are as engaged in the ideas as I am. I train with carpenters, paramedics, jail guards, teenaged girls and 65 year old men. It’s a wonderful class, led by a very skilled, very intelligent instructor who never lets us forget that the actions we take influence the world around us, and that we alone are responsible for the force we use on others. Do I know how to put on a one-handed choke that will render you unconscious in seconds? Yes. I do. Under what circumstances would I do that? I can use that same technique to simply contain you. I can take you down. I can move you around. I can make you do what I want. I can kill you. My attacker does not decide which of those things happen.
There is a radical responsibility in fighting – one that appeals to my intellect and my judgement. Yesterday, my instructor presented me with a white belt and I will now begin training towards a black belt in unarmed combat. This will take many years. I am ready. He also gave me a book. One that has astonished me beyond all measure. I find it incredulous that I have not already read this book. I did not even know of its existence, but it is, in my opinion, the only book on masculinity you ever need to read. And you need to read it. Men and women alike.
Jack Donovan, The Way of Men.
I have just ordered All About Women: What Big Sister Doesn’t Want You To Know, and I suspect I am in for a mind-blowing surprise. I look forward to it! I will review it here, I promise. The introduction has me mesmerized.
The whole education of women ought to be relative to men. To please them, to be useful to them, to make themselves loved and honoured by them, to educate them when young, to care for them when grown, to counsel them, to console them, and to make life sweet and agreeable to them — these are the duties of women at all times and what should be taught them from their infancy.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Yes! Why should these duties be taught to women? Because they are what makes us happy, contented, satisfied and pleased with our lives. How does fighting fit into that? Well, I can’t very well be useful and agreeable if I’m dead or even seriously injured, can I?
Let’s look at The Way of Men. Donovan is utterly fearless in describing the souls of men, and he may be the only writer on masculinity who refuses to define masculinity in reference to femininity. What women think of men has nothing to do with masculinity and Donovan refuses to pay even lip service to the idea. Men are defined by four tactical virtues:
These virtues, which are not static, but can alter with circumstances, are the core values of men, and the extent to which men can be and do these things defines their masculinity. I find Donovan’s distinction between alpha and beta to be interesting, and quite intellectually satisfying. I’ve struggled with the distinction, and Donovan clarifies it, writing ‘I do not believe alpha and beta are fixed types. I use these labels to describe dominant and submissive relationships between sets of men. A man can be near the top of one hierarchy and near the bottom in another.’ Since I really want you to buy Donovan’s book, I am not going to go into any further detail describing his tactical virtues, but I want to explore what the book sparked in me.
I write articles about and for men, and I have quite a few commentators that will indeed remind me that what I think really means nothing in terms of men’s lives. At best, I am a mirror that reflects experiences and issues men already understand. The most important thing I can contribute to the men’s rights conversation is to address the women who are hurting men, and thus themselves. When I was in London at the ICMI16, I spent some time with Stand By Your Manhood author, Peter Lloyd and he gave me some advice that upon consideration is very wise and very apt: write a book aimed at the mothers of sons to discuss how to parent those sons without any of the poisonous ideology of toxic masculinity and feminism.
But do it gently and sweetly.
Peter is right. That is where I should focus my efforts, so I am going to begin by reading and reviewing Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs learned from their training and taught to their sons. I will publish those reviews here. I will publish my writing as it is progresses seeking valuable and much appreciated feedback from men and women alike on the material. Am I getting things right?
I am very open to suggestions as to what specific topics I should cover, as a woman and a mother. What do women need to know and understand about their sons? I will revisit the comments section here frequently, between cooking and cleaning and perfecting quarter beat attacks during hubud drills.
Strikes to the bicep are brutal! But fun. Pain is okay. Injury is not. So far, I’m on the right side of that line.
So, the frequency of my posting is likely to slow down as I work towards a book that I have not yet titled. I’m just calling it my Be A Good Mom book. Title suggestions I am very open to, as well!
Hey, did you see the news that notorious online bully Clementine Ford wrote a book on how to fight online bullying? That’s rich, but if that bitch can get a book deal, so can I. And my book is actually important.
The Way of Men. If you haven’t read it, order it now. You will not regret it.
Lots of love,