Often people ask me based on my appearance if I practice martial arts. That
strokes my ego and makes me feel good. Sometimes they ask specifically if I
train Muay Thai, or, strangely, they just yell “Muay Thai!” at me. That really
strokes my ego and makes me feel good. I suppose there are certain attributes of
a striker that are identifiable by the physique and the posture.
Muay Thai is a striking sport often referred to as ‘The art of 8 Limbs,’ for its
weaponization of punches, elbows, knees, and kicks. When I began my martial
art inquiry a decade ago, it was Muay Thai that really captured my spirit. Though
I’ve explored many arts since then, Muay Thai will always be my mother
Just a few days ago, a young man asked, “You train Muay Thai?”
I wasn’t wearing athletic clothing or anything that would indicate I am a martial
artist; I was just walking along the boardwalk carrying a book. I asked the young
man why he made that assumption.
“It’s a vibe,” he said.
The same thing happened at a wedding two week ago. I must admit, a part of me
really loves when it happens. It’s definitely a childish part of me that craves
validation, but I love it nonetheless.
Yesterday, here in Venice, I got another "You train Muay Thai?"
This time it was from a man who just moments prior swung a vicious overhand
right at his wife right in front of their five-year-old daughter.
Luckily, he missed, although she did manage to rock him a few times with some
nasty open palm strikes.
I observed this melee unfold twenty-five yards away from a bench where I can
often be found sitting and diligently doing absolutely nothing.
Absent of any thought whatsoever, I observed my body stand up and move
hastily toward the altercation.
As I arrived on the scene the man who threw the punch was lashing out at and
threatening three weak men who were half-hearted in their attempt to intervene.
These three men were paralyzed by their ineptitude and their lack of honor.
One of these men, who was now laughing, attracted the brunt of the assailant’s
threats - “Something funny mother fucker??” he was yelling. “You want
Looking back, I think that the laughing man is a real criminal in this tale. There
was nothing funny about this situation. Though it has been said, “The only thing
necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” doing absolutely
nothing would have been more honorable than laughing.
I can understand his laughter, I guess. But I still found it despicable. It was a
The reality of his experience in that moment was terror and the paralysis of fear,
which he may not even have been viscerally aware of. He masked the actual
experience of his paralyzing vulnerability in the face of violence by feigning
laughter to save some semblance of pride, very the much the same way the man
who threw the punch was using a toxic display of force against a woman to spare
him from feeling the deep chasm of his own helplessness.
I found the laughter and the violence both to be disgraceful displays of masculine
unconsciousness. Though for some reason an intense anger was evoked in me
by the laughing man, and not the violent one.
I shot a glance of disgust at the laughing man because that was all I had time for.
The violent man and his woman were still threatening each other. I ignored her
and stepped immediately into his personal space.
Though I had invaded his space and took command of the situation, my vibration
was not communicating that I was going to hit him. His daughter had just seen
her parents assaulting each other, and probably not for the first time. That’s
traumatic. She didn't need the further trauma of watching a stranger knock her
I’ve seen people get knocked out. I’ve knocked some people out before. Often,
they’ll go rigor mortis on the floor, or convulse, or make very bizarre noises. It’s
not pretty. No daughter should be subject to seeing her father in that state.
My sole intention was to give the woman and the young girl enough space to get
away from him and allow cooler heads to prevail. Though I was not threatening
him with violence explicitly, he implicitly understood that there was simply no way
he was going to pass me.
I stood there in front of him, in absolute silence, looking into his eyes. I watched
as his eyes darted from my head to my feet and back to my head. He was sizing
me up; having an internal conversation with himself about the possible outcomes
if he let that overhand right fly in my direction.
I could feel his energy shifting. He didn’t like his chances. His presence began to
soften. I softened as well.
He did not challenge me or threaten me at all. He looked past me and made a
motion to follow the woman and the girl, I said, “Stop.” He did.
At his side were two leashed dogs, a German shepherd and a pit bull. The pit
bull’s head was the size of cinder block. I was glad I hadn’t needed to put my
hands on him because I’m pretty sure that pit would have taken my arm clean off.
And I don’t think the shepherd would have just stood there watching.
We stood there in silence for what seemed a very long moment. He was looking
around anxiously, but his feet were locked in place. I never looked away from his
He was the one to break the silence:
“You train Muay Thai?”
We talked for a while. He opened up to me about how hard things had been for
him lately, how he is struggling with his own demons and with his wife's
alcoholism. We talked about how much he loves his daughter and how his
behavior affects her. We talked about her future, what he wants for her. We
talked about his long-held desire to train as a martial artist, and the possibility of
using a diligent exploration of the arts as a vehicle to alchemize the pain in his
spirit and to find a sense of honor in his life. We discussed martial art as a
healthy outlet for the expression of his frustrations, and we talked about his
responsibility to heal, so he could spare his daughter from becoming the
receptacle of all the pain and trauma that he’s accumulated from all unfortunate
things that happened to him in his life.
We shook hands.
I walked away.
I probably should have done more.
Catholic monastic and mystic, St. Francis of Assisi, famously said, “Lord make
me an instrument of your peace.”
All respect due to St. Francis. But I prefer a subtle edit to his words: