Tae Kwon Do and Dorkdom

Turns out that Jason Calacanis is a 5th dan Tae Kwon Do blackbelt. Little did we know. On his site, he posted a great anecdote of something that happened to him while returning from his friends bachelor party.

I can relate to this incident pretty well. When he was confronted by the 2 huge guys, the thoughts that ran through his head are the same kind of thing I think about very often. Most well trained fighters tend to scope out the people around them, and play out combat scenarios in their minds, even when you’re just in a meeting and there is no present danger. That constant low level awareness is part of what lets fighters react quickly to situations when they do arise.

My personal issue with Tae Kwon Do as I was taking it is evidenced in Jason’s mental scenario. Both attacks he was envisioning were killing or crippling blows. While he may not have used them had it actually come down to it, those are often your first inclinations. Had he actually used them, a self defense plea would probably not been taken seriously in court (and it would have gone to court) because it was an excessive response to the threat. These guys were not displaying intent to kill him or cripple him, only scare him and rough him up to teach him a lesson. Judges see it that way. Tae Kwon Do, at least as it is taught to most westerners is a very forceful striking art, aimed more at taking out an opponent than controlling one. As Jason so aptly puts, it’s “a brutal martial art”. That brutality can get you into a lot of trouble if your first reactions in a fight are inclined toward inflicting permanent damage.

Jason’s attitude in the confrontation is also telling, not breaking eye contact, and also not taking an apologetic attitude. Most guys like this don’t mind getting into a fight, but don’t necessarily want one either. They feel like they have been slighted, and want acknowledgment of that and an apology of some sort. They don’t necessarily want to beat you up. They want you to acknowledge that they were right and you were wrong. By “standing up to them” he escalates the confrontation. While Jason states that had he broken eye contact the tiger would have pounced, he misplaces it by calling it a sign of weakness.

There is a very big difference between staring someone down and not looking at them. If you don’t look at them, they see it as a sign that you don’t take them seriously. That makes them angry. They want your attention because they feel they have something important to say. However, when you’re staring someone down, you’re challenging them. In his particular position it is a good idea to make eye contact, but not hold it just like you would in a normal conversation.

While the bit with their Mom was genius, had she not been there, Jason may have ended up in a very difficult position. I have seen this a million times with martial artists. Jason was standing up to them because he knew he was not doing anything wrong. Their indignation was their problem, and he was willing to fight them over it. His pride was his. Knowing he’s a good fighter, and having the moral high ground gives you a very justifiable position to fight in your head.

Rather than just say something like “I’m really sorry guys, I wasn’t flipping you off but I can see how you would think that. I was wagging my finger and in the dark it must have looked like I was flipping you off. I really honestly wasn’t. I didn’t mean any disrespect and I don’t want trouble.” By taking responsibility for the misconception, the guys get what they want, which is acknowledgment.

How can I be sure they weren’t going to beat him up anyway? Well when you’ve seen a lot of fights, you know how it goes, which I’m sure jason will attest to. When you really want to beat someone up, you don’t give them a chance to talk about it, you just do it. Had they been dead set on fighting him, one of them would have jumped him coming out the door. They probably would have explained why they were doing it while they were at it, but they wouldn’t have waited.

My whole point here is moderation. It’s a hard thing to find in martial arts. It’s hard to find someone who is a really good fighter who will back down from a fight even when he’s right, swallowing his pride and acting like a dork. It also hard to find a fighter who can read the real threat of a situation and act accordingly. If someone is incapable of harming you badly, but will try to fight you no matter what, you have to be able to react in a way that is more controlling than disabling. Drunks are a good example of this. If someone is talking to you calmly, but has obvious and unerring intent to kill you or seriously harm you, you need to be able to either get away or disable them. Rapists and some muggers fall into this category.

Perhaps more psychology needs to be employed in combat training in addition to physical fighting skills. Maybe something like “Aggressive Assholes 101” and “Dealing with A types in Bar Fights”