The first key concept one must understand is that our understanding of violence in today’s world is grossly misshapen. In most modern first-world countries (the US being perhaps an exception in current times), the vast majority of people have very little or no experience with violence. That’s a good thing, mostly (and I’ll get to the ‘mostly’ part later on).
So where does knowledge of violence come from?
For the most part, from the media. Violent video games, social media content and entertainment media are more prominent and accessible than ever, even to young children. Unfortunately, violence in the media is popularised, glorified, romanticized and is highly choreographed and scripted. In other words, it is highly inaccurate. Exposure, especially prolonged, to extremely violent videos or games, will result in immersion in violence that can create a desensitisation to violence that is extremely unhealthy (more on this another time).
This has warped our perception of violence.
The next key concept to understand, is that violence is something that is innately human and built into our genetics. Since the dawn of time, humankind has had to rely on violence to protect itself from predators and attacks, whether interspecies or not, as well as used it for more nefarious purposes.
Point is, that the physical acts of violence are imprinted in our DNA and are part of our biology. We instinctively know how to make a fist and hit something when adrenalized or scared. This does not have to be taught.
This also leads to the point that violence, within itself, is neither good nor bad; it is a tool, and as such can be used for good or for evil. Violence refers to the physical act of force with intention to hurt someone else. If someone was to try and kill your family, you would use violence to defend them and that would be considered as just by our society; however, if you are the person trying to attack someone else, it would be considered evil. The tool hasn’t’ changed, but its use has. More on this here.
From that we can assert that while wanting a world free of violence is certainly aspirational, it is, without a shadow of doubt, not realistic. Violence does indeed have some place in our society, provided it’s used by the right people for the right causes, though I’ll be the first to admit that that’s a very broad statement that is open to interpretation based on individual values, beliefs, attitudes, experience, bias, etc.
Where does this lead us to?
I believe that violence is much like anything else that is innately human and is part of living in our modern society, and as such you will be exposed to it in life to some capacity or another – sleep, food, exercise, relationships, sex, entertainment, alcohol and/or drugs, religion, etc. And just like any of those things, it’s important to develop a healthy relationship with it.
And how do you develop a healthy attitude towards many of those things?
In my opinion, there are a few elements that are crucial to this – education, mentorship/guidance, rites of passage, experimentation and experience.
We have these in many, if not most, elements of life. We have someone who is older, more knowledgeable, more experienced or otherwise better qualified in the area to help educate us - parents, teachers, bosses (hopefully), community elders, etc.
I believe that mentorship is particularly important. Being able to find a good role model who can inspire, educate and guide is important in any aspect in life. In the context of violence, this is even more important. Finding someone who can help you navigate not only the physical elements of violence, but also the moral, ethical, psychological, emotional and legal elements will help build a healthy relationship that is rooted in deep understanding of the topic.
The next piece is that of experimentation and experience. Being able to safely engage in violence in an environment that is safe, supportive and understanding will help develop an understanding of boundaries, and create a healthy blend of respect and fear based in experience. Simply put, once you have been punched in the face a few times, you develop an understanding for how dangerous and unpleasant it can be and, under the right guidance, that will turn into a healthy relationship with why, where and how violence can and should be used.
Lastly, as a society, we use rites of passage and ceremonies to mark important occasions in almost every aspect of life – coming of age, graduation, marriage, promotions, etc. These help us transition from one phase of life to another and recognise the importance of an experience. Unfortunately, this is something that is also being gradually lost. Having ceremonies or rites of passage that allow us to explore violence in a healthy way will help put it into context and create an environment where that primal energy can be released safely, with the right people.
By forbidding kids and young adults from exploring or even discussing this aspect of themselves, we encourage them to dicover it in unsafe, unhealthy environments, which can put their very lives at risk. Instead, we should help them to do this safely and in a supportive manner.
Personally, I believe this is increasingly more important for young men. I believe that for many young men, this is an element of masculinity that has become taboo to explore. Expressing an interest in it will often see them labeled as bullies or thugs. If not taught how to explore this correctly, that's exactly what they might turn into, though it can often be prevented. Exploring violence in a safe space, under the right guidance will help build healthy respect and discipline, teach to respect other’s boundaries while creating confidence. This will help to no end in preventing young men from engaging in violence outside of such a safe environment, and learning about it from the wrong sources.
The question is then where can one find such an environment.
The answer, in my opinion, is the martial arts.
Finding a good martial arts school should help meet all of those requirements. However, the key word is good. You need to make sure it’s the right mix of a great community, good teachers and well-informed and educated experts on the topic.
For those of us who do find these places, it can feel like the last true refuge where one can engage in an act that is primal, human, physical and healthy.
Personally, I believe that if the everyone in the world trained in the martial arts, even if only for a few months, we would see a vastly different society. One that understands the place that violence has, limited though it is. It’ll be a society that understands the consequences and responsibilities of using the tool of violence
In short, I think it will create a society that is much less violent.
Stay safe, stay tuned.