A Warrior in the Garden -- Why Peaceful People Learn Martial Arts
November 08, 2022
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