Martial Arts as War, and the Second Amendment

A recent article of mine on the obligations of martial arts instructors elicited several responses. I won’t bother addressing all of them. I will, however, clear up some confusion.

First, I never said a person in a potentially dangerous situation should never run. Of course, there is such a thing as a tactical retreat. Rather, I criticized those instructors who, indiscriminately and categorically—i.e., without any regard for the circumstances of the attacker or attackers and those of the person under attack—tell their students to run. This is stupid and perilous advice if the prospective victim can’t run. For an elderly person, or a person who is not elderly but who has sustained injuries that render running a sub-optimal course of action, this advice, if followed, could very well make the attacked person that much more vulnerable.

Or maybe a person could run, all things being equal. Running away still might not be the way to go because it buys the attacker the time he needs to give chase. It could increase his odds of successfully executing his attack.

So, to be clear, I never stated that a person should never run. And this means that I never said that he or she should always “fight.” For that matter, strictly speaking, I never urged anyone to fight—ever. There is a reason for this.

Athletes in competition with one another “fight.” And that is all fine and good. Adolescents, and those adolescents who never cease being such even long after they’ve come to inhabit adult bodies, fight. When the former fight, while it is generally to be discouraged, it is expected and regarded as a part of maturing. When the latter fight, it’s pathetic.

Those who enroll in a martial art for the purpose of self-protection train to kill. They train to become dangerous, specifically a danger to would-be assailants.

In other words, a serious student of the martial arts does not engage in the sorts of “street fights” and “bar brawls” for which YouTube martial arts instructors are all too eager to prepare the viewers of their channels. A student who trains in a martial art should be training not to fight but to wage war, and to do so for no other purpose than that of victory (and not mere “survival”).   

But if one is to wage war, then one is to unleash unremitting violence only in the event of an imminent threat when there are no other options. The stuff that can be avoided, will be avoided.

In 1986, Orlando Sentinel columnist Charlie Reese accused Ronald Reagan, “a nice man,” of failing to “understand the world, which is just as barbaric as ever.” What concerns us is not the accuracy of Reese’s critique of Reagan but rather his analysis of “the truly dangerous man”—in particular, how the truly dangerous man differs from the proverbial “tough guy,” the obnoxious asshole with whom far too many martial artists seem to be preoccupied.

Reese’s description couldn’t be more on point:  

The truly dangerous man does not wear camouflage fatigues or muscle shirts. He does not talk loudly, boast how tough he is, give demonstrations or make threats. The truly dangerous man dresses inconspicuously and is soft-spoken. He walks away from most confrontations. The only time you learn that the truly dangerous man is mad at you is a split second before you die, for he never fights. He only kills. The truly dangerous man knows that fighting is what children do and killing is what men do.

Those Americans who train to become truly dangerous men—or women—train to exercise their Second Amendment right, for what both gun enthusiasts and gun-controllers seem to miss is that while the right to “bear arms” does indeed affirm the right to use guns for purposes of protection, the latter implies the more fundamental right to self-protection by whatever means.

The Second Amendment, then, codifies a martial spirit that the framers expected would be diffused among the free citizens for whom it was meant.

And this leads to a second comment in response to my last article: Almost without exception, the commenters implied that the gun was on the order of a magic wand, an effortless substitute for martial training. The gun is indeed, potentially, a great equalizer. But it is only as good as the person who wields it. 

If the gun-bearer is great on the range while shooting at stationary targets, it doesn’t mean he is sufficiently quick to get the jump on the bad guy, or able to shoot, under the dynamic conditions of a real attack, without hesitation, without panic and with intention, flesh-and-blood human predators. If not, then his gun will be useless—to him. It could, however, come in handy to the bad guy once the gun owner has been disarmed.

No weapon, whether artificial (such as a gun or a knife), natural (like fists), or a specific striking technique or combination of techniques, should be fetishized. As the great 17th-century Japanese samurai warrior, Musashi, said: “You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon . . . Too much is the same as not enough.”

To ensure that one is as deadly as one needs to be with a gun, one should train in a martial system of some sort. Specifically, one should train one’s body to become deadly. 

Anyone who would object to this contention need look no further than the United States Marine Corps. The USMC has instituted a martial arts program. It also trains Marines in bayonet fighting. Why? Well, it’s certainly not because it is any longer expected that Marines will be engaged in hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield, much less that they will be charging the enemy with bayonets. The virtue of training in hand-to-hand and bayonet fighting is that they help foster the mental fortitude and the moral will necessary to prevail over the enemy. 

If you are training so as to deal with a man, up close and personal, who is determined to kill you, then you are training so that you won’t think twice about stopping him by plunging a sharp instrument through his heart or driving your thumbs through his eyeballs, or ax-hand chopping him in the throat with all of the tenacity and power that you would muster if you were trying to achieve the (admittedly anatomically impossible) task of decapitating him with your bare hand.

At this point, the gun becomes but an extension of your natural weaponry, your body, and makes killing that much easier. An analogy: If you can drive a stick shift, then you can drive an automatic.

What’s true for Marines is no less true for civilians—and civilians who are gun owners.

Speaking of Marines: Warrior Flow Combatives is founded by retired USMC Lieutenant-Colonel Al Ridenhour, a veteran of four tours of duty and over 100 combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for which he was awarded multiple combat action ribbons. Ridenhour is a martial artist of nearly four decades.

In the interest of full disclosure, he is also my own Senior-Master Instructor, and I am an instructor in his system. Ridenhour trains his students, and expects his instructors to train their students, as he trained the Marines under his command for warfare.

Anyone interested in more information regarding Warrior Flow should see here, here, and here. There are preconceived notions that the elderly and those with handicaps aren’t capable of undergoing such training. These preconceptions are mistaken.

It is never too late for law-abiding citizens to maximize to the full their odds of being able to successfully exercise their right, embodied in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, to defend themselves and their own from the wicked who would prey upon innocents.

About Jack Kerwick

Jack Kerwick earned his doctorate degree in philosophy from Temple University. His areas of specialization are ethics and political philosophy, with a particular interest in classical conservatism. His work has appeared in both scholarly journals and popular publications, and he recently authored, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front. Kerwick has been teaching philosophy for nearly 17 years at a variety of institutions, from Baylor to Temple, Penn State University, the College of New Jersey and elsewhere. His next book, Misguided Guardians: The Conservative Case Against Neoconservatism is pending publication. He is currently an instructor of philosophy at Rowan College at Burlington County.

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

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