In a suggestively titled post called Pugilistic-19, S.K. very perceptively criticizes the aversion most modern men show for standing their ground and throwing down. Though S.K. focuses specifically on physical fighting in this piece, the analogy he draws as he explores modern man's distaste for fisticuffs and self-defence requires no great effort of the imagination to unearth (bold added by me):
It seems to me in today’s soft culture, most men have no idea how to fight nor any inclination to do so, except when they’re adequately beered-up and someone insults their favorite sports team or catcalls the provocatively-dressed female they might be escorting at the moment.
The church and/or Christianity seems to have been very influential in this denaturing of male aggression during my lifetime. Indeed, most Christian men I know seem deeply uncomfortable discussing the topic of fighting or personal violence. This is a profound mystery to me.
Rail-thin as a teenager, I learned to fight early and got pretty handy at it. Violence was a natural part of my world, though the type of violence was a universe away from what transpires on the streets today. Most of my friends owned firearms; it was quite common to receive a .22 rifle or .410 shotgun as a twelfth birthday gift, whether new or handed down from father or grandfather. But not one incident of gun violence was ever recorded in my hometown when I was a teenager, even though we were all normal, healthy redneck boys. Nor were knives common. Almost all boys carried a pocketknife, but the idea of pulling one out during a fight was seen as cowardly, the sort of thing some oily Yankee hoodlum in Noo Yowrk City would do. The ability — and willingness — to dust knuckles was a mark of masculine virtue in the shaded, sidewalk-belted streets where I came of age.
And though I am old now, and if physically attacked would have to seriously harm the other person instead of just testing my abilities to put him on his backside (“fighting” per se is a young man’s game, as opposed to true physical combat), I often size up other men, watching how they move, how they carry themselves, where their eyes go, how focused or frivolous they seem to be, and I think, “I could take him,” or “That guy would fold me up and put me in his pocket if we buckled right here.”
But I don’t sense this in most men these days, even those near my age. They seem to have been…bled out in some fashion. And younger men seem positively neutered. I watch men and wonder what they would do if someone menaced their woman or their children. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about my conclusions and assumptions.
There is a thrill, a savage kind of joy that overtakes a man in a real fight. The oft-repeated descriptions of tunnel vision in combat, that narrowing down of focus to the point where only the opponent exists –this is in my experience generally accurate. When that first blow is attempted and landed, the entire body seems to fill with blood and spirit, and time slows down, and all things become clear. When the first blow is received, the spirit fights its own instantaneous battle – do I fold, do I flee, do I counterattack? – and then that remarkable brew of experience, instinct, and bloodlust floods the body and seems to take over. Japan’s greatest feudal swordsman, the incomparable Miyamoto Musashi, once wrote,
“When I stand with my sword in hand against a foe, I become utterly unconscious of the enemy before me or even of my own self, in truth filled with the spirit of subjugating even earth and heaven.”
While I have never experienced a complete disconnect from the opponent before me, I have known something of the transport, the transcendence Musashi described. And those who have been taught or have somehow come to believe that violence is per se wrong and unChristian can only see physical combat as a negative thing, even sinful. This baffles me.
The genetic delicacy and preserve-my-life-and-health-at-all-costs mentality of today’s man is a pure impediment to his wholeness as a child of God. I believe this with my whole heart. But how to remedy it? I have no answers. Having lived a life full of conflict and having accepted it as natural and even good, my attempts to rouse a man’s interior martial spirit would be like trying to tell a deaf man to listen up.
Today’s men, those who have eschewed the martial spirit, are a curious, alien bunch to me. They lack something that I honestly didn’t think a man could live without. They worry me. But I worry even more about their women and their children. No man should ever fight another man over a sports team, or an insult, or a casual date. Likewise, wives and children should know absolutely for certain that their husband, their father, will maim any man who tries to harm them, or be maimed himself in the attempt. This is not phony-tough talk. This should be the reality of all those with a Y-chromosome into whom the living God has breathed His breath. It should be as natural as raised hackles.
I hesitate to add anything to what S.K. has written. Partly because he has pretty much said all there is to say on the topic, and partly because he has said it all very effectively.
Nevertheless, I think S.K. would agree with me when I say his post is not meant to be taken as a reckless incitement to aggressive physical violence. This isn't about running around and randomly knocking heads or starting fight clubs. Nor is it a call to arms, so to speak.
It is, however, to be taken as an acerbic but completely accurate assessment of the seeming unwillingness of Christians, Christian men in particular, to take a stand and defend themselves, their loved ones, and their faith when required. Taking a stand and defending also extends beyond the physical.
True Christians accept the primacy of the spiritual, but accepting this primacy should not involve utter passivity and timidity in the physical world. In fact, displaying nothing but passivity and timidity in the physical is a sure sign that one has not accepted the primacy of the spiritual at all because such acceptance entails a certain degree of moral, physical, and spiritual courage.
Note added: I have never had the pleasure of meeting S.K. in person, but our correspondence and the work he posts on Steeple Tea have revealed him to be one of the humblest and gentlest souls I have ever known. By the same token, he is also an ex-marine and possesses a considerable martial arts background. I'm no slouch myself, but I have a feeling S.K. could kick my ass without breaking much of a sweat. Simply put - despite his external mannerisms and innate sensitivity, S.K. is one tough customer - both physically and spiritually. We should strive to be tough customers as well - especially now, in this time and place. To do otherwise is un-Christian.