Friday, June 27, 2008

Social Responsibilites and Martial Arts

I know not too many people read my blog but I'd really like a response from each person that does on this one. Tonight I saw an overweight guy run out of a bar being chased by 3 athletic looking guys all carrying a plastic cup of beer. The 3 guys chased him to right in front of my comic shop and knocked him to the pavement and he was almost hit by a car. At first me and the people in the shop all thought it was just 4 guys screwing around outside the bar, as is common during Friday nights...until the guy being chased was punched in the face and hit his head on the pavement. He was unconscious while the 3 athletic guys kicked him while trying to not spill their beer. I ran out of the shop to try to stop them before things got worse but they left before I was out the door. Everything happened really fast and by the time I'd run up to the guy (only 30 feet or so away) there were 5 guys around him also from the bar yelling at him and slapping him in the head trying to wake him up. I'm sure his nose was already broken and he possibly had a concussion so I told everyone to get back and had one guy call for an ambulance and sat with the guy in case whoever came back and to make sure things didn't get worse for him. Apparently he'd gotten drunk and said some things to the 3 guys who knocked him out. When I walked back into the shop my assistant manager asked me why I went out there since it was none of my business. That brings me to my point. Do we only learn martial arts to defend our own person, or people who can defend themselves have the obligation to defend others? Now I have no idea who this guy was or what he said, but it seems to me 3 guys beating up one drunk guy doesn't seem right no matter what he said...much less kicking him after he's unconscious and already hit his head on the pavement. Also who slaps someone in the head repeatedly after he'd just been knocked out? That guy claimed to be a lifeguard and deal with that sort of thing all the time.I just really wanted everyone else's thoughts please. In case anyone was wondering, the guy who was beat up came to before the ambulance arrived and thanked me for making sure he wasn't in worse condition when he woke up...until he tried to get in his car to drive home and I wouldn't let him. He'd been drinking and just regained consciousness, but thankfully a friend of his took his keys and drove him home. Whoever he is I'm sure he'll think about how much he drinks or at least what he says next time.


Alex. said...

Hi John,

The problem you're raising here is most interesting. If I were in your place, I'd have done the same thing. Judging from my own experience, it's just not right to have 3 bullies hit a fourth person, knock him out and after he's down start kicking him... no matter what he might have said.

My Aikido instructor has been practising for the past 30 years. He also studied Judo and a couple of other things. Everybody in the dojo is convinced that if one day somebody attacked him, he could simply kill the guy in a few seconds (empty handed of course). Yet, he keeps telling us that no matter how advanced we might be or think we are, we should always, always try to avoid conflict and if, however, the conflict is imminent, we should take our best chance and run.

Still, the problem remains opened: what to do if conflict is imminent not to you, but to someone who is either at a visible disadvantage (such as the guy you told about), either the victim of the aggression is a friend or your defenseless old grandmother? From the human point of view, it's impossible to just stand by without intervening.

The kind of bullying you're talking about isn't actually as uncommon as we'd be comfortable to think. Something similar happened to me too a few years back, on holiday at the seaside. It was at night but the main street I was walking on with 2 friends of mine was full of people. We were on the right side of the street, without bothering anyone or the traffic. A car slowly approached us and, while getting as close to the right side of the road as possible, one of the passengers raised his head out of the window and started swearing us (especially me) - apparently he considered it fun. I had no idea who the guys were. After a few seconds, I got mad (yep, I was a kid, 19 or 20) and kicked the rear wheel of their car (the car was going really slow, in the same pace as us, they must have had 5km/h or so).

As you can imagine, I didn't even manage to get a scratch on their car, but they felt offended so the next thing I knew is that they stopped the car, violently making the breaks screech, and 3 guys jumped out of it. They were all taller than 1.90 m and really BIG. Everybody on the street just stood there frozen, including my 2 friends (a few meters behind). Then the driver approached me while I had no visible reaction (I just thought he was gonna start yelling or something, I didn't imagine violence can come so 'free' and easy). He came towards me with a first punch that I don't know how I was able to deflect, and then with a second one that got me down. While I was trying to get up, his 2 buddies started kicking me in the back. They were actually playing cat and mouse with me - they waited until I was halfway up from the ground and then kicked again. After a minute or so, they quickly jumped in the car (I could hear people starting talking around) and hit the road. ( Just a side note: me and my friends were/are female, so violence is definitely democratic and in accord with the human rights regarding un-discrimination :) )

If I were in the same situation again, I surely wouldn't be the one starting the conflict, but if a friend was involved, I'm sure I'd jump in.

Patrick Parker said...

my thoughts, for what they are worth:
you put yourself in a vulnerable position when you take responsibility for other people's well-being in a situation like this.


I personally think the world needs many, many more people willing to do the right thing regardless of potential consequences.

check this out...

John Wood said...

My question is still, don't we have a responsibility to put ourselves in a position (even a vulnerable one) to help someone because we're more equipped/prepared for it?

Andy said...

I don't think training in a martial art, for any length of time, put's a badge in our hand to do what's "right" or makes us stand out as our fellow man's protector. At least not in this day and age. If it were i think a lot fewer people would be in the martial arts, sadly.

BUT i think it DOES give those of us who do care and feel responsible to get between the bullies and their target a better chance, especially with aikido (shameless plug), to end the conflict without serious harm and maybe give whoever is involved a chance to reconcile.

Now for me personally, i think you did the right thing. Even if you were just "bystandard guy" taking a stand against something like that, i think, says a lot about you. I would expect no less from someone whose heroes tend to wear spandex ;-)

It's like Pat said though, the world has far too few people willing to stand by their fellow man, especially when it's not convinient for them.

Anonymous said...

I think that if you went in and tried to stop the beating by putting your body between the attackers and that guy, or by talking them out of continuing their attack, you would be upholding your social responsibilities while staying within the bounds of the law.

Note, i didn't say anything about going in and fighting the attackers off their victim. If you did that you would be just as guilty as the 3 of breaking the law.

Of course, you would be completely justified in defending yourself if they decided to turn their aggression on you for getting in their way or trying to talk them down.

Being equipped because of training in the MA is irrelevant to our social responsibilities.

Stay safe and keep training,


Anonymous said...

No, I don't think we have any responsibility to defending others because of our martial arts background.

But I do believe I have a responsibility for defending others because of my own morals, and my martial arts background enforces this within me.

You run to someone's aid because you feel a personal responsibility, you intelligently choose to fight, wether in defense or assholishness, based on your training. Well, i do at least.

But each situation is a judgement call. Though I do have a belief that the strong should look out for the weak, I also have a deep belief that some people need a punch in the mouth... but not an unconcious kick in the teeth..except Carlos Mencia...anyway

The decision to step into a confrontation in progress is sort of knee jerk, you either do it or don`t. What you do after that is a result of training is what i am saying.... sorta...

Bryce Lumpkin said...

Uhh the above is Bryce, hit the thingie too early

Marc said...

Very thought-provoking.

I think one background problem here is that most martial artists don't train to intervene or confront. Most are training either for sport or for self defense. Looking at the people I've trained with over the years, I would expect about 5-10% of them to take some assistive action in a situation like the one you related.

A huge problem here is the misconception that martial arts teach intervention and confrontation. But intervention and confrontation strain a very unique skill set which includes verbal assertiveness, negotiation, problem solving, and a sort of asymmetrical approach to dangerous situations. Sparring doesn't cover this, and an assertiveness/confrontations workshop held only once a year most definitely doesn't.

If we want martial artists to be the heroes who step in and defend people, that also means teaching a solid code of morals, which is increasingly rare these days. I was completely shocked to find that one of my previous martial arts teachers sold drugs on the side to pay the bills. But it made sense. This guy was a moral coward.

If I were to run a martial arts school today (ha), I would definitely try to develop drills and curriculum for the skillset mentioned above. We're not just fighting to save ourselves anymore; the health of our society is failing and we need people to teach physical AND non-physical skills that match the challenge.

Bob Patterson said...

To a certain extent it depends on what we called in corrections, "scene awareness".

You don't want to get into a fight that you cannot control. If it's five on one and they are gang bangers you could die.

In that situation I would not help until more people arrived or the cops got there.

I know it's horrible watching someone get beat down. But if you have a family, loved ones, etc., it'd be even worse if you got killed trying to help.

Scene awareness works in relation to your skills and the situation. If you think you can manage one attacker until help gets there go for it. Three or more?

I may wait until the cops got there. What if somone had a gun or knife and decided to escalate?

That having been said, not many people would have even intervened so my hat is off to you for your courage.


Dan Paden said...

Overall, I'd have to say you should always use your judgment, but if I kept someone from being crippled or killed, I'd have to count that as a pretty good day.

Chris | Martial Development said...

The people who know how the fight started are better equipped to decide how it should end, than a random bystander who happens to enjoy martial arts.

They may or may not be morally upright and courageous, but certainly better equipped and prepared.

Bryce Lumpkin said...

the problem here is more that after he is dropped and unconcious the fight is over, but they continue to beat him. As I said before, I fully believe if you start something then its your fault for what happens afterward, but the big decision on my part wasnt to help the guy being attacked until he could no longer defend himself in any way and 3 drunk men are kicking him to death.

somaserious said...

John, this is so very, very tricky. Just the fact that you know and are proficient in a MA automatically puts you in a place of contention. By that I mean if you were to intervene and seriously hurt those men you could be the one in trouble. On the other hand knowing what you know makes you feel as if you should intervene. Personally I agree with what BP said: assess the situation and don't bite off more than you can chew. I've seen too many articles about people who interfere in situations similar to yours get themselves killed. Know what you are getting into, especially if the assailants are drunk and/or carrying a weapon. Some kind of distraction may work better in this type of situation, one where the attention is placed on something other than the punching bag.

John Wood said...

I just wanted to thank everyone for replying so far. I hope that situation never happens again but I'm glad I was faced with the reality of what could (and did) happen to someone. It really opened my eyes to situations that I'm sure happen all the time, and I'm glad everyone has had some input on their assessment of what happened from how I described it. I also hope this never happens to or near any of you (or again for alex)

Chris | Martial Development said...

P.S. Let's not assume that the attackers and defender didn't "know martial arts" themselves!

Jason said...

Great post. My teacher puts it best: depending on the circumstances, you should or shouldn't jump in. If it is a man and a woman fighting, probably best to stay out of it unless of course her life is in danger. On the other hand, in a 3-on-1 situation, or any such situation, a fighter will make the determination that the odds are stacked against him and will let the attack happen. A martial artist will jump in and help out regardless.

Katherine said...

I think it all depends on whether you believe that there is a moral obligation between humans. For example, if you were in the Sahara and you came across a plane crash with a lone survivor, and that survivor was a little kid, do you have a moral obligation to try to get that kid to safety? or do you just let him die? John, much as I still resent you, I think you did right when you went outside.

John Wood said...

That last post was from an ex of mine (hence the resentment) in case anyone had any doubt. Today was the first time I saw her comment. I still think about that guy from time to time. I think today I would still do the same thing. I found out a few weeks later that he'd gotten drunk and was trying to pick fights. It was after he left that bar that 3 (also intoxicated) guys thought it would be funny to give him what he wanted and beat the mess out of him. He got what he asked for, but not getting kicked after he'd lost conciousness. He had a concussion, and his nose was broken in two places. Even knowing he was looking for a fight beforehand, I still would try to help. I don't think there's ANYTHING in martial arts that says we should help others, but I do think the people that generally are (and should be) drawn to them are people that already have that feeling of wanting to help their fellow man.