What Is Violence?

Violence is gross.

Violence is sticky.

Violence is intimate.

Violence is a solution.

Violence is a tool. 

Tim Larkin has a quote, which I’ve touched on before, “when violence is the answer, it’s the only answer.” 

Because violence is all these things, it is something that many people covet, and for those who study it, hold it and wield it with the utmost respect. 

When two or more people enter a violent encounter, they’ve entered a unique human relationship. And I think many, even those with martial arts experience, underestimate the intimacy, closeness and extremely gross nature of real violence. 

One such element is the fact that you may well be exposed to, ingest and be showered in human bodily fluids. Blood, sweat, piss, feces, tears, saliva – you can encounter one or more of these when interacting with violence. Movies only show a portion of these, while training may expose you to a few more. Those who have accidentally choked out a partner may know that when someone passes out, things release, and if you’re behind them, they’ll release on you. It’s sticky. It’s disgusting.

Violence is one of the few situations where you’ll be in the type of proximity with another person usually only reserved for romantic interactions and familial relationships. Intimacy is one of the key elements of violence and probably one of the reasons, I think, it’s so frightening. 

Violence has to be intimate. If you’re close enough to kiss, you’re close enough for a head butt. And just like love, it targets the most vulnerable parts of you. Intimacy targets your weakest parts.

This is why martial arts have such an emphasis on respect. Funakoshi said, “Karate begins and ends with respect.”

Every class, we enter into a violent relationship, but not true violence. It’s more like theatrical violence. It’s an act of play. You play one role while your partner plays another. “All the world’s a stage, all the men and women merely players.”

But if we don’t respect the roles we play, we can easily break the 4th wall into reality. Those who understand and respect violence know this. When we lose sight of playfulness in the dojo, we enter into the realm of real violence, which becomes increasingly intimate and gross.

But this playful nature can also land people in a complete fantasy world.

There are martial arts out there that avoid the ground, grappling, and closeness in general. If they claim to sell self-defence without integrating these aspects, they most certainly don’t understand violence.

I heard a story once of a traditional karate practitioner at a seminar that involved hand wrestling, and she said she wouldn’t participate because “she doesn’t like being grabbed.”

Do you know who cares less about your comfort level than you do? Everybody.


The unfortunate thing about violence is it doesn’t care about your comfort level for touch, and if you’re a target of it, you generally don’t have much say in the matter.

I’ve seen those with machismo claim that they could handle x-z violent situation, and I’ve watched chi-ball flinging nutcases say the same. Those who have experience in real violence and understand it aren’t usually too quick to throw judgement, make outrageous claims about beating others, or “wishing a guy would.”

Why? Because violence is literally one of the worst things imaginable, to be a victim of it and to be in a situation where one would need to use it.

Do you know the sound of the ligaments snapping beneath you?

Have you felt life leave someone’s body as their brain is denied oxygen by your hands?

Have you heard the howls of pain as bones are shattered by your intention?

Even worse, have you been on the receiving end of these?

No? Me either!

But, surviving soldiers of war will be the first to tell you how awful the reality violence is. When I spoke to my grandfather about WW2, he shook his head and said, “war is hell.”

As students of violence, we need to walk the middle path of it. We need to explore it at a depth that allows us to do so safely but also with just enough breath to not enter into the realm of bullshido.

Only those with extensive experience know how to create an atmosphere and culture that balances the play and realities of this unique and extremely human interaction. That’s why it takes so long to get a black belt, or at least, one that most acknowledge and respect.

To understand it, you need to both push and respect the boundaries of the theatrical violence we engage with within our gyms and dojos. And this symbiosis is easily disrupted with poor attitudes, bad intentions, and ignorance, easing us out of play into real violence or pushing us further into unreality. Both are unhealthy and lead to potentially dangerous and even deadly consequences.

So what are we to do as teachers and students of violence?

To replicate the intensity, we must pressure test.

But always with the concern and well-being of our partners.

And always with respect for the tool of violence for which wield.

Enjoyed this blog? Check out Does Your Karate Have “Flavour”?!

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