Martial arts, appearance and reality

In the past several months I’ve periodically tried to think through what it might be that has got me wanting to think and learn about martial arts in the last couple years. I had another insight recently.

A handful of years ago, I decided to start lifting weights to get bigger and stronger. I had asked myself whether I’d rather be stronger or not, and it seemed clear to me that if I could be stronger, I’d want to be. The question was whether it was possible and whether it would be practicable, not whether it was desirable. So I did some research, I tried, and I found some success.

How does this lead to martial arts? It comes down to the reason why I wanted to work out and get stronger. There are multiple reasons, of course, and none is most important. But one of the reasons was that I wanted to look a little more dangerous, in case that would ever be a benefit. I hoped that if I was ever walking down a dark street and someone thought about attacking me, or some such scenario, I’d be safer just from the fact that a person might be dissuaded by seeing signs of physical strength.

A lot of guys who have bulging physiques seem to make this assumption, that being strong means being tough, that lifting weights is the same as being good at fighting. In some ways, it’s a sensible assumption! The two things aren’t entirely unrelated. All else being equal, the stronger person will probably win a fight against a weaker person.

And yet, knowing how to fight is generally a much more significant factor in a fight than how much weight a person can bench press. Having the knowledge and the skills and the specific athletic adaptations that are relevant for fighting will contribute much more to winning a fight than sheer weight-lifting prowess by itself.

And I realized that what this meant was, I desired the appearance of being someone who’d be dangerous in a fight, but I wasn’t acting as if I desired the reality of being such a person.

If my actions showed that I cared about the appearance of having a thing, doesn’t that suggest that I should also care about the reality of having the thing? If it makes me happy and confident to think I appear like I’d be dangerous in a fight, wouldn’t I be more happy and confident if I knew I could actually be dangerous in a fight? That’s how I was thinking, at some point a couple years ago. And it seems like I managed to convince myself.

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