When the bald-headed monk wrapped in a saffron colored robe walked into the Bangkok restaurant, I took notice. It wasn’t just his intense stare, it was the tattoos of Buddhist imagery and scriptures that covered his entire body. I immediately thought to myself, “This monk is gangster!”
He asked what I was doing in Thailand. His English was not great but I wanted to be clear, “I am here to train Muay Thai.” (Translation: I am not here for the women.) Turns out he was a former Muay Thai Champion who retired at age 20 – I was impressed. “This monk is REALLY gangster,” I thought.
He ended our short conversation by saying: “The greatest lesson I learned from hitting someone, is that it is wrong to hit someone.”
His words struck me – and left me with no choice but to contemplate them. As I arrived back in the states, I picked up a stray newspaper at the airport. It was already open to an article in the Sports section – brain autopsies of many NFL players had shown chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), an Alzheimer’s-like brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma.
Ignorance is Bliss.
In the late 80’s I loved boxing. I was mesmerized by Iron Mike Tyson. He combined raw brutality with precision technique to finish strong men quickly and violently. It was awesome. His fights created a contagious, primal excitement. I thought little of the negative consequences his opponents might suffer.
Then, in the early 90’s, MMA came along – it was WAY better than boxing. More realistic, more interesting – and to those of us in the know, it was safer…no standing 8 count…fewer head strikes…submission victories…etc.
But now in 2012, it is hard to ignore the ever-increasing scientific data – repeated blows to the head can create lasting damage to our brains. Although probably safer than boxing and the NFL, can we still believe that MMA fighters are somehow exempt from the scientifically proven consequences of repeated blows to the head?
Fighting is undoubtedly part of our DNA. Sex and violence are two of the most potent drives of living beings – they also make for great entertainment. I still love MMA, and I still watch the NFL sometimes – but the love is not as pure as it once was.
These days the thrill and excitement are offset by the guilt of watching other people damage themselves for my viewing pleasure. With increasing frequency, it can feel weird to watch humans willingly damage each other for entertainment purposes.
The Good News.
Luckily there is Jiu Jitsu, which has all of the physicality of a real fight, with none of the negative repercussions of strikes to the head. Not only will BJJ not diminish our mental capacities, it has the potential to improve them.
In boxing the objective is to hit your opponent in the head and body until they can no longer stand up. With Jiu Jitsu the objective is to control and then submit your opponent. Jiu Jitsu gives us the option of stopping a technique short of permanent injury.
This is not an argument against the striking arts. All martial arts have value – and many people much greater than me have derived much benefit from their training in the striking arts.
Yet I am grateful for the life-promoting properties of Jiu Jitsu…