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As I patrolled the courtyard of The Cri Bar and Grill patrons sat quietly drinking. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed sudden movement. With a smooth sweep a large bald man smashed a glass against a table and swung it in an arc at the Maori man opposite him, slicing his throat. As blood poured from his victim he calmly rose and walked to the street. A barmaid rushed off to call an ambulance and I ran over to help as he slumped back in his chair in shock.

Mark Spence (left)

My partner ran out from the bar and said quietly but urgently,” let’s go!”. Moetu was an almost perfect bouncer. In all the confusion he had seen the injured man’s friend quietly leave the table to follow the attacker down the street. As we sprinted round the corner we saw him grappling with the thug for a second before bringing a shattered beer bottle down on the top of his head. The bald scalp seemed to split like a melon. Blood poured from his wound drenching him as if he had dived into a pool of that precious fluid.

Instinctively we pulled them apart according to skin colour; Moetu grabbing the Maori man as I took hold of the white guy. This approach helped to prevent any racial factor escalating the violence. Moetu let his quarry walk away. We could deal with him later. The amount of blood pouring over my man meant that we had more pressing concerns. In the few seconds that we walked him back to the bar he was already beginning to faint from loss of blood and shock. I wondered if he or the man whose throat he slit would die.

The situation I have outlined was horrific, but it did not bother me. After years of working as a bouncer I had become desensitised to violence. At the time I was probably quietly proud of my ‘toughness’. Reflecting on my attitude then I now feel sadness and shame. A decent person should recoil from violence. Becoming comfortable with it is not something to be proud of.

Just as nobody at a McDonald’s conference wants to talk about cows as living beings, martial artists often talk about violence as an abstract. I find those who most readily espouse theories about how things work, ‘on the street’, often have little experience of the thing they presume to teach. To advise people on these matters with an understanding based only on theory is simply irresponsible.

I have heard instructors earnestly explaining to wide-eyed students how to deal with a knife attack. One pupil told me that he felt he had at least had a decent chance against a knife having trained in the scenarios presented in that one lesson! On my first visit to Hong Kong someone asked Chu Shong Tin about defending against a knife with empty hands; he simply replied that it is impossible. He picked up a biro to demonstrate. As we tried our techniques he left pen marks on our forearms every time we tried to block him. Nothing worked. If he had used a knife we would have been cut to shreds.

Presuming to teach empty hand versus knife techniques to beginners and allowing them to believe that they might work is like a tightrope walker who has never really done the act suggesting that his students attempt an unharnessed crossing of the Grand Canyon should the opportunity arise.

Some martial arts instructors begin to believe that they are invincible. In their imaginations a fight would pan out like a James Bond scene. By virtue of being a martial arts ‘expert’ they see themselves vanquishing attackers with ease and grace; just like when they practice their moves in the school. Life is not like that.

Nick had the physique of a surfer and the physical toughness of a commercial fisherman. He trained with me for several years and also worked for me as a bouncer. He was streetwise and more than capable. He happened to be in a bar off duty when a fight started. Nick took one step towards the action when he was struck from behind. He hit the ground concussed and was kicked in the face with steel-capped boots breaking several teeth. Instinctively he rolled over to guard his head, another kick shattered his shoulder blade. More kicks landed, breaking ribs and almost fracturing his skull. This all happened in a matter of seconds. Seriously injured, he could not get to his feet. Hotel staff found him beneath a table after the commotion had settled.

Even highly trained martial artists end up on the losing side sometimes. Nick’s only mistake was to not see the attacker behind him. He did everything right but still ended up in hospital.

Cocooned in the safety of their own school and encouraged by compliant students it is very easy for a martial arts teacher to lose touch. It is important to understand just how horrible violence can be. Teaching people how to fight is a great responsibility. It is quite possible that a student could injure someone or get hurt themselves. Glorifying or trivialising violence is unethical and dangerous. As I grow older I am horrified at how cavalier my attitude was as a young man. These days I try to behave more responsibly.

~ Mark Spence


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