“I choose not to”.
“You made a statement, now defend it”.
That might sound a little funny to you but this is an actual conversation I had with someone recently. They had made a very strong assertion that I knew to be completely wrong scientifically and I was challenging it. They would not engage in the discussion and walked away. They had their belief and that was that. This really got me thinking about the idea of self-defense.
Self-defense…. The meaning seems obvious right? Just to defend one’s self, your body, right? But why does that just mean physically? Don’t we actually defend ourselves more mentally than physically in everyday life? In one sense maybe we should call martial arts body or physical defense versus self-defense although it could be both. I want to really look at this deeply because it is something we don’t normally do or tend to develop and I think it’s important to think about.
Our ability to defend ourselves, in the traditional sense, can be easily tested: you fight. It’s here you see if what you believe to work physically actually holds up under pressure. Those of us who have trained for years can tell you countless stories of folks who truly believed in their martial/fighting ability but really had nothing to back it up. You’ve seen this with the fights in China between traditional fighters and some MMA folks. The traditionalists believed with all of their being that they had something substantial to withstand an attack but when reality tested it they crumbled. Their house was built on sand, not stone. Often this comes from sincere and genuine trust in what they’ve been taught by their teachers, from a faith they’ve had and trusted for years. It’s easy to go through life like this because we don’t get tested most of the time. We can carry on the techniques that were handed down without ever really testing or doubting their efficacy.
In the world of combat all illusions get flung out the door, well mostly anyway. There is still the self-delusion that “I was holding back because this isn’t life or death..” which might have a tiny kernel of truth to it but for the most part is self-delusion. Now for the reason I am bringing this topic forward; can you defend yourself as in beliefs, political, spiritual or whatever? What are they based upon? Something that you’ve read or been told by someone else, a teacher, a pundit, parent, friend or other? Perhaps it’s learned from an ancient text or a spiritual teacher. How does the efficacy of your very core beliefs get tested? Why is defending them by vehemently demanding ‘This is what I believe!” considered an adequate defense? You can state whatever you want at whatever volume but this doesn’t make it true. This is really no different than stating I can physically defend myself but not be able to back it up. Since it is an opinion it is more nebulous because it is not substantial or objective but a subjective stance. It’s what you believe to be true. There isn’t a way to challenge it, an objective cosmic gauge of truth here, no hammer of veritas or anything. We just state that we believe it’s true so it is. But can we really defend it without falling back on just our belief as a reason? Why isn’t that belief built on sand?
I remember years ago there was a owner of a very prosperous martial arts school on the east coast. He often talked about his glory days as a fighter in a famous kung fu school in Taiwan. He claimed to have won many tournaments and trophies. One of his students was a good friend of mine who was originally from Taiwan. He used to go there each summer for training. While he was there one summer he realized he was at the actual school this teacher had bragged about. The walls were covered in pictures of the history of the school and their tournaments. He searched it carefully looking to find his teacher’s photos. The pictures went back over 50 years and none of his teacher. He asked the head of the school about it and he didn’t even know the guy. He would have stuck out being American in an all Chinese school. The story was false, totally fabricated, the fellow never studied there. When he returned to the US he confronted his teacher who denied everything; they were just hiding his presence there. He talked to the other students, no reaction, couldn’t be true. So they had a belief and he had facts but beliefs won. He could back up, defend, his accusation but it didn’t matter they weren’t having it. I find this so strange.
The 911 terrorists fully believed in what they did, so much so that they gave their lives. Does this make it true? No, not at all but if you’re on their team it’s true to them. If you’re on another team you think they are crazy and misled. This is how most abstract truths are whether political, religious or just personal. You can’t really prove or disprove them. They are built on the sand of the mind. How do you test it? Look at the churches of snake handling here in the US where they believe that they are immune to snake bites because of the Bible teachings. Here it should be an easy test. If they are correct, they won’t die of the bites. However, it’s not uncommon for these followers to die from the snake bites. Does it prove to them they are wrong? Nope, not to them, they just didn’t have enough faith or some other specious excuse. Similarly, the Boxer rebellion in China had its moment of truth when the villagers thought their qigong training would protect them from foreign weapons in 1901 China. They believed whole heartedly and they died. They could not defend their belief. This is rampant in human behavior, to believe in that which is not real, to base your life on it and in some cases to die because of it. How many preachers in recent times have declared their immunity to COVID-19 19 and then died from it?
I am not writing this to attack religion. I am writing this to expose the core of self-defense. Can you really defend yourself, your core values, self-identity and beliefs and back it up with anything other than “I believe this”? We give ourselves such leeway when dealing with this personally yet we have no acceptance of the other persons stance which is opposite of our own. I was faced with this head on, with no leeway, from my first and primary Zen teacher Dr DeMartino. He was a scholar and a great Zen man. In one way he taught very little but in another taught profoundly. He challenged you to defend yourself, your idea of self, at every turn and gave you no respite in arbitrary views, theories or declarations. “How do you know that”? was often spoken by him. He didn’t fill in the blanks, he made you do it, if you could. He drove at the core of what I held true and made me truly question what and why I believed. This makes you seek a foundation rather than a hypothesis.
This comes up at this time in my life because so many people are vehement about what they see as reality. They are willing to die for it though they haven’t taken the time to test it, to really see if it holds water or stands the test of time. They just believe it and that’s it. This is dangerous because it is ignorant. It is ignorant of facts, science and history. It is what you believe to be the truth rather than what the truth actually might be. You can believe in a cure or you can use the cure that has actually been proven to work. Given a choice which one would you choose?
Can you defend yourself?
Ideas, articles, lessons, and retrospective moments.