How’s this for a slice of fried gold? Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, member of the four horsemen, and all round sciencey bloke has taken up BJJ. What next? Dawkins in an MMA match with the pope?! (I would pay vast quantities of money to see that. Prediction: Reason by armbar).
As a card-carrying member of the militant atheist brigade – my rational jack boots and evidence epaulets look divine, dahling – I’m quite excited about all this. Sam Harris is a fantastic author. I highly recommend everyone to read Letter to a Christian Nation – it’s concise (96 pages long), clear, and as good a demolition of the absurdities of faith as I have ever read.
I am hoping him turning his laser logic onto a subject as full of bullshit as martial arts can only be a good thing. Having cut my teeth in the TMA world, I know first hand how delusional they can be. Write this is stone, tattoo it on your chest, and don’t forget it: Kata does not help you, chi doesn’t exist, you are only as good as your last fight.
Harris has tackled martial arts before, writing about the realities of self defense. I don’t really think I’m qualified to critique his viewpoint – the last fight I got into was in school, and the last fight I avoided was about 10 years ago (over a phone box, of all things) – but what he says here does seems consistent with other things I’ve read about “realistic” self defense as opposed to self defense as it’s taught in TMA: “Now you punch me. No, not like that like that, like this. No the other hand, oh you’re doing the attack all wrong!”
As an aside, I’ve always liked the term “Self Protection” to differentiate between the two. The logic is, I believe, that defense is something you need once you’ve failed to protect yourself from being attacked in the first place. Whilst it’s essentially a semantic thing, I like having the two terms. Of course there is a much simpler word to describe what happens when you need to resort to fisticuffs: Fighting. And make no mistake, the police take a very dim view of it.
Speaking of which: Harris actually links to someone, Lee Morrison, with whom I once attended a self protection seminar which I can sum up thusly: Avoid violence at all costs, but when you have no other choice – hit first, hit hard, and then RUN AWAY. This seems to be what Harris is advocating too, and makes a lot of sense to me. Why on earth put yourself in more danger than you need to be – both physically and legally. You call it “teaching them a lesson” the courts call it “attempted murder”.
Whatever your views on the whole self defense issue, I think we can all agree it’s worth reading. For my part I like the fact Harris refers to police’s views, quotes the stats (fuck yeah evidence!), and also has read the criticisms of his article (mainly about the role of BJJ in not going to the ground) and corrected his footnotes accordingly. It’s this attention to detail that excites me about his BJJ blogging.
I’m not going to go into details about the BJJ article, read it and judge for yourselves, but I really enjoyed it. I liked his analogy of drowning to describe being tapped – something I’ve done myself before, much less eloquently – and his rational approach to the reality of the subject he’s addressing shines through as always. He uses that video of the chi master getting punched in the face to illustrate the self deception of some martial artists. In his words:
Of course, it is sad to see a confused old man repeatedly punched in the face—but if you are a martial artist, or have even a passing concern with safeguarding basic human sanity, you will take some satisfaction in seeing a collective delusion so emphatically dispelled.
The one thing I will say is that the article is very dedicated to the self defense side of the art, something I could care less about if I’m honest, so might not be for everyone. Still, it’s not everyday a New York Times best-selling author starts writing about your martial art. Read it, fools!
For clarity, here’s the link again: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-pleasures-of-drowning Enjoy!