You may have heard the metaphor, “The map is not the territory”. The phrase was coined by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics, where he applied it to illustrate the differences between belief and reality. As such reality exists outside our mind, but we can construct models of this ‘territory’ based on what we glimpse through our senses.
This is often no different to how people approach the topic of ‘self-defense’. In this sense, an instructor conjures up a belief of a specific self defense situation, a model — and then goes on to demonstrate how one would then successfully engage with said ‘situation’ in hopes of winning. The situation however remains a belief, because no matter how an instructor attempts to set up that situation, it is still and will never be the reality of the actual self-defense event.
As such, as a self-preservation instructor myself, I am keenly aware of the constant attempt to close the gap between the belief of what should be done in self-preservation, and what will actually arise in the moment of the actuality of the self-preservation event itself. This is no easy task. It not only takes creative ingenuity, but brutal, uncomfortable honesty, with the absolute necessity to place one’s ego at the door.
There’s Nothing Beautiful About Real Life Ending Violence
The paradox of ‘self-defense’ instruction then is that what most instructors are fighting, is not the real fight out there, but the fight in here. The desire by many to be seen as experts in their field, has resulted in beautifully crafted maps of the world of fighting, that rather than lay bear the realities of violence, often glorify it. What emerges is the elevation of perceived mastery in the fighting arts through elaborate, well timed, always knowing, drills and demonstrations against a cooperative theatrical version of the ‘bad guy’. What seems far more important than self-preservation efficacy, is rather the management of the self impression of the instructor as a lethal phenom of codified martial destruction. Looking good, knowing all, has replaced the uneasy truth, that fighting for life and death is raw, unscripted, ruleless, and unromantic.
There’s nothing beautiful about real life ending violence on either side of the divide, either that perpetrated by the attacker or the defensive actions of the defender. There’s nothing beautiful about violence full stop. Yet, I am not surprised that we have what can only be viewed as a dysmorphic relationship with it. Killing another human being is bad when it is done in our everyday world, but gets a pass in warfare. Fighting other people on the streets is wrong, and we teach our kids not to do that, but its fine when its labelled as sport. We are horrified by the level of violence in the world, but then head off to the cinema to watch an action movie, fuelled by violence as a method to relax after a hard week of work. It’s not only the self-defence instructors who are confused about violence, everyone is.
What is the Map, and What Is The Territory?
What is the map, and what is the territory? It’s hard to tell at times. Violence is sometimes not good, but sometimes it is, depending on the belief we are dealing with, as in “as sport it is fine,” but, out on the street, “no” or in war “it is justified,” but in suburbia, “no”. Violence then, buy its very nature is a complex problem that is hard to solve, yet even harder to understand. Violence is there, we know it is there, we know it exists in us, and outside of us and I am sorry it cannot be neatly packaged up into a codified ‘martial arts’ system that has all the answers. I certainly don’t have all the answers myself.
What I do know is this. In a perfect world, violence would no longer exist. That’s the world I have always craved to live in as a young child. Brought up in government housing on the South Side of Johannesburg, by my alcoholic abusive Mother, my earliest memories are of violence. Drifting off daily into the imaginary world I created in my mind, I was free, free from the torment of living each day in fear, and sleepless night’s filled with anxiety. Had it not been for my upbringing and possibly brought up in a different place, a place where violence wasn’t the everyday norm, I wouldn’t likely be writing this, I wouldn’t likely be teaching martial arts, and no one would know me as a fighter.
Growing up, as I did, taught me that violence is a simple fact of life. Sometimes it’s sport, sometimes you are the sport. Desperately seeking a way out of the this conundrum led me to martial arts. Only to learn, that for the most part, those teaching it offered only a stylised, theatrical version of dealing with violence, that I actually knew different first hand. It wasn’t until I spent several years outside the door of some of the roughest nightclubs in Johannesburg, that I began to realize that to meet violence, to overcome it, requires a disdain for it. Making it ‘un-cool’ made me realize that, to defeat it, required an unapologetic raw, often distant version of what was trained in the ‘dojo’ approach.
Although I was good at fighting outside the door, I hate it as much now, as I hated it then. There’s nothing romantic about it — at all. There are, and will never be winners in violent confrontations. Even though I proved myself as a doorman to be someone that met violence with more violence — and even as I won – I left that encounter just a little less human. By the end, I was more animal than a human being. Some of these psychological changes would haunt me for years to come (and some still do!)
Growing up, enduring the violence of the neighbourhood gangs, the school yard bullies, and at the abusive hand of my Mother, and then later as a doorman, brought me face to face with the ease at which other fellow human beings can inflict injury, sometimes psychological, and sometimes physical on others. It’s because of this, and understanding that violence exists, will always exist, that I forged my way into becoming an instructor of teaching others how to defend against violence. I therefore teach others how to both engage against violence by other humans, and how to overcome it. My map then for this journey is my own personal experience itself. I have, and sadly, because no one should have to endure what I did growing up, walked a very different territory to most teaching others to defend themselves against interpersonal violence.
The Territory of Violent Behaviour
The truth is, the need to enhance my animal nature simply to survive the world of interpersonal violence growing up and as work to pay the bills, made me take a long hard look at the territory of violent behaviour. The reality is, even after all my experiences in the world of interpersonal violence, I still don’t have all the answers to combat it. There is nothing to glorify about interpersonal violence either. Teaching others how to defend against it, isn’t and shouldn’t be self serving. It’s a selfless endeavour.
The solution if there is one, is to teach others to disengage where ever possible from potential moments of violence, from the mundane, to moments that potentially could become life and death. While the ego may hate this, to not fight, is to win the fight. There are so many fights going on in this world, that if I teach others to fight every fight, they will be doing nothing but fighting. When you do that, you lose your humanity, and become a caged animal, angry, vengeful, with unbridled hatred to all that surrounds you, including the hand that may feed you.
When violence arises, and there is no option to remove oneself from it, then I teach to do only enough to be able to exit that violence. Even then, there’s never going to be a single victory in any interpersonal violent encounter. You may win, but you may leave injured, not always physically, but potentially psychologically too. In the end, all these self-proclaimed self defense, reality based instructors who glorify engaging in violence under the guise of the defensive kind, do so because they don’t and have never survived real sustained interpersonal violence. For those instructors who have, and still glorify it, then they are damaged. Both are dangerous to their students.
I am the first to admit that interpersonal violence exists. I am the first to advocate that all should learn how to defeat it. But I am also the first to admit, that even then, even if you can, the best result you can and should hope for, is to not to engage in the violence to begin with. Life is way to short, to be fighting real or imagined dragons.