As part of my series on silliness in the martial arts, I would like to point you to an excellent article at Marc ‘Animal’ MacYoung‘s site NO NONSENSE SELF-DEFENSE called “Dysfunction in the Martial Arts”. He starts the article by saying:
A psychiatrist we know is fond of saying: “There is an assumption of sanity in this culture.” By this she means when you are dealing with people, you automatically assume they are sane. In a very real sense, this assumption is a courtesy you extend to the people you are dealing with. It is almost as though you are saying, “Out of politeness I will assume you are sane, and deal with you accordingly.”
If that assumption doesn’t turn out to be correct, things can get troublesome.
Not to imply that everybody that gets involved in dojo wars is “crazy”. I think that some of the reason for this silliness is simply the human attraction to soap opera and drama. People like to feel that they are part of something “important”. Combine that with an inherent urge towards “tribalism” and group identity and you have an environment ripe for conflict. Marc talks about this phenomena:
The style wars, dojo politics, trauma dramas, Internet flaming, persecution, cults and countless other examples of outrageous behavior in the martial arts culture take on entirely different implications when considered from the stand point of dysfunctional people acting out.
That’s not martial arts or self-defense, nor is it even about the martial arts culture, it’s something else being hidden behind the name of those things. In fact, it would be safe to say, most of the arguments are red herrings; less about the topic and more about personal agendas. Agendas which can be strongly influenced by neurotic, dysfunctional and — sometimes — disturbed thinking. I mean stop and think about it, if the greater goal of personal safety is to keep people safe from violence and harm, then how come there is so much fighting, quarrelling, rude and obnoxious behavior going on in the name of self-defense and the martial arts? For people who claim to be able to teach you about self-defense, they sure aren’t walking their talk. Instead they spend a lot of time jumping headlong into flame wars, style wars, verbally attacking each other and creating all kinds of strife, hard feelings and trauma drama. That’s not self-defense, that’s fighting. More specifically, that is what is known in psychological terms as “acting out”
The rest of the piece goes on to describe some of the psychological and emotional disturbances that one can find in the world of martial arts and why martial arts in particular tends to attract people of these types:
And run into them you will in the MA world. As we stated earlier, there seems to be an attraction to the martial arts/self-defense world for disturbed people; who can be any personality type and anywhere along the continuum. Why? In psychology a known problem is “self-medication.” This occurs when a person with a mental disorder attempts to quell it by regularly ingestion a certain type of chemical. They initially attempt to do this because the drug seems to even them out in the short run. Unfortunately, without a doctor prescribed regime of medication, addiction commonly results.
A behavioral equivalent also exists. A person can become addicted to a type of behavior. Compulsive behavior occurs when a person engages in a certain type of behavior to the point of destructiveness and/or obession. While many people know about Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, do you also realize that there are groups like Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous and Co-dependants Anonymous? Groups that are dedicated to overcoming behavioral addictions?
Any behavior can become addictive in an attempt to mentally self-regulate or repair damage — including a fixation on self-defense, fighting and martial arts. With this in mind, it not unreasonable idea that people who are obsessively training for “self-defense” are commonly using it as a means of avoiding dealing with their issues. I mean face it…how often are you physically attacked? Then why obsess on it? Or is it a way to avoid other, more realistic issues? These can be any number of possible conditions ranging from obsessive compulsive, bipolar disorder, paranoid personality, primary delusional, secondary delusional, projection, post traumatic stress disorder to dependant personality, to name a few.
Putting that in layman’s terms: A person is attempting to shore up holes within themselves by adding in the ability to fight and/or learn the ultimate fighting art. Think about it, how often is self-confidence and self-respect promoted as one of the selling points of even the more mainstream martial arts? While it is true that the martial arts can assist in achieving these goals, if the problem is severe, without professional psychiatric help and supervision a very real possibility exists of such an attempt reinforcing the problem instead of solving it.
Another possible explanation is that instead of assisting in overcoming these problems, this kind of training can be used to reinforce them. That is to say instead of altering the behavior that puts a person into conflict with others, a certain type apparently is learning how to fight in order to be able to get away with that behavior. Why change an aggressive, dysfunctional behavior when you think you can beat up anyone who objects to it? This is especially true when you are willing to ferociously attack anyone who dares question your assumptions — if not physically then verbally. Why learn people skills when you are engaging in training that supports your belief that knowing how to fight is all you need in order to be safe? The mindset apparently is: If I can kick the world’s ass, then I’m not the one who has to change.
This is why we say such people seem to view MA/SD as a way to act out and reinforce their beliefs and dysfunctions. It also seems the more extreme the school/organization, the greater the numbers and degree of dysfunction. On the other hand, some seemingly “more normal” schools can have their fair share too, although these tend to be a little more subtle. As such, a little bit of research into this subject is warranted — before you find yourself being sucked into trouble.