A Beginner's Lesson in Tai Chi Silk-Reeling - Video

A Warrior in the Garden -- Why Peaceful People Learn Martial Arts

Lucky Smile 2
My dog Lucky smiling as he greets my wife. His smile says, "I am not aggressive."

My dog Lucky smiles when Nancy or I get home from work or other errands. He is a strong, 55-pound Labrador/Pit Bull mix who could tear one of us apart if he wanted, but instead, he smiles at us when he greets us.

I didn't know why he does this, so I looked it up because someone who doesn't know Lucky might think he is baring his teeth, ready to eat them alive.

When dogs do this, it is called a "Submissive Smile." It is their way of communicating, "I am not aggressive."

I found out about this "Submissive Smile" and realized I do the same thing. When I encounter a stranger, I smile, nod or say hello, even when I just pass someone in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, among the boxes of Cocoa Puffs and Honey Smacks.

I am always quick with a joke or a light comment to put people at ease. I like for people around me to relax and have fun.

Perhaps I'm communicating, "I am not aggressive" in my own friendly way.

I once told someone, "I am a man of peace." The person replied, "Then why do you study violent martial arts?"

It's a fair question.

There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes like this:

"It is better to be a warrior in the garden than a gardener in the war."

So why have I been obsessed with learning martial arts for nearly 50 years? Punches, kicks, blocks and deflections, joint locks, takedowns -- the art of self-defense is fun for me.

A man of peace?  

In truth, I never want to fight again. My last fight was at age 18 in 1971, when I finally confronted a bully -- Rob Brewster -- who had tried to terrorize me with a couple of bully buddies -- Dan Cotter and Tom Prentiss -- for years. It didn't go well for Robby. He ran away after a couple of punches in the nose. It is now 51 years later, and other than tournament matches, I have not had a violent encounter with anyone.

Something interesting happened in my mind when I was a kid and had to fight a bully. I enjoyed it. I tried to avoid a fight, but if I could not peacefully walk away, there was something about fighting a bully that felt like important things were being tested within me -- my inner strength, my determination, my fighting skill, and also my self-confidence.

I never lost a fight..

If you study martial arts like I do, and you push your body to learn how to creatively and effectively apply the techniques against another person, it doesn't make you a violent person. I almost consider martial arts to be like a puzzle. When a bully attacks you, it is a problem that has a solution.

When I competed in sparring at tournaments, or in the full-contact Toughman Contest, my goal was to size up my opponent as quickly as I could, figure out his strengths and weaknesses, and then avoid his strengths and exploit his weaknesses. It was a puzzle, a mystery I had to solve very quickly or I would lose the match.

I don't compete anymore. I would love to compete, but as I approach the age of 70 in three months, I am forced to realize those days are behind me. I still work with my students on the puzzle -- the mystery -- because it is fun to build and maintain these skills, and to see how all the movements and techniques in our arts can work if you need them for self-defense.

And so I become the warrior in the garden. I have the ability and the skills to fight, but I focus on living a good life, cultivating my relationships and my own personal fulfillment, spiritual nourishment, and enjoyment of life. My writing and teaching and my wonderful marriage became my garden.

A garden is peaceful, pleasant and without stress. We want everyone to enjoy the garden with us.

But don't make the mistake of thinking we are simply gardeners.

If the moment arises when we need to protect ourselves or our loved ones, the warrior steps out of the garden, ready to help.

--by Ken Gullette

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Steve Smith

Thank you for this post, sir.

I myself am no fighter. I have never won a sparring match. I just like being able to move with skill and power.

The spirit of the warrior, I believe, is not only for combat - it is for courage. In over thirty years of study, I've needed the practical skills only once. But the spirit of courage and responsibility has served me, always, as an engineer, a creative person, a teacher, and a partner, and I am grateful always for the peaceful warriors of the world, those who choose to put their strength into cultivating a garden to be shared, whom I seek to emulate. Thank you for your fine example, sir. /@

Ken Gullette

Thank you, Steve. That was a great comment.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)