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”?!

Bjj white belt, Karate black belt

Things I’ve Learned From BJJ As A Karate Black Belt

The first and most obvious thing I’ve learned attending BJJ classes is BJJ. But, if you’ve been involved in the martial arts as long as I have, you know that there is a lot more to gain than just technique. Often, these secondary benefits can outweigh the primary goal of acquiring a new skill.

From the beginning of my BJJ practice, I’ve been cognizant of how my past martial arts experiences can facilitate the acquisition of new information, and how that new information can enlighten my past.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I’ve gained as a BJJ white belt from the perspective of a Karate black belt.

#1 – I don’t know everything. . . Thank god!

Coming into BJJ, I already had a high-performance background in wrestling, and 18 years of Karate with Japanese Jujitsu thrown in. It’s safe to say that I had far greater experience than the average white belt in terms of technique and formalities.

I recall walking in with my white belt on. Not only was it tied correctly, but in such a way that it would not fall off while training, a dead giveaway to my instructor that I wasn’t completely new to the martial arts.

Despite this, and as one would expect, in my first class, I got my ass handed to me—thank god!

I’ve always enjoyed a good ass-kicking, and that day, I received it. It was a reminder that I didn’t know everything. It was also a sign that I was in the right place. Those around me had something to offer, and I would have lots to learn.

#2 – Reinforced Importance of Aggressive Resistance

Essentially, at the end of every lesson in BJJ, there is a rolling session. Rolls are a means to explore techniques you have learned and to apply them under pressure.  You aren’t really studying violence unless you pressure test. You can practice a technique over and over again, but if you don’t apply it under aggressive resistance, there’s no proof that it really works. I think this is one of the reasons that BJJ has served those in MMA so well. They’ve always made pressure testing a part of their regular practice, allowing them to enter an arena with the utmost confidence.

#3- A Background in Martial Arts Helps

Even if a martial art system offers a different emphasis, a background in any martial arts goes a long way.

I had the following going for me:

  • I didn’t feel silly or awkward putting on a gi
  • Having spent time in this male-dominant industry already, I wasn’t intimidated to be the only girl in the class
  • I already had excellent body awareness and was familiar with many of the movement patterns
  • I knew how to get hit and keep moving
  • I could immediately see the levers that make techniques work

I didn’t have to learn to overcome anything. Any obstacles that did arise were familiar ones. Because I felt more comfortable than the average white belt, it lent itself to an ease of adaptability in the context of BJJ.

#4 – Generalists Versus Specialists

The style of Karate that I currently practice is Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jitsu. In this style, we practice everything: submission, throws, chokes, percussive impacting, and of course, kata. In short, in Koryu Uchinadi we study violence.  Because violence has no specification in terms of techniques, we have a fairly wide curriculum that allows for specialization for those who choose. Our study is broad, which defines us as generalists.

Studying martial arts from a broad manner lends itself to many benefits

For example:

  • Understanding of contextual premise
  • A Comprehensive view of violence
  • Comfortable in most positions

Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners are ground specialists. You don’t learn the proper mechanics of how to punch in a BJJ class, but as the Gracies have proven, you don’t necessarily need to. If we view BJJ as a web, all variables centre around a single point, the ground. While the opponent can kick, punch, grab, and so on, if the BJJ practitioner can grab you, they can control you.

Specialization also lends itself to unique benefits.

  • Hick’s Law—the idea that the more choices you have, the longer it will take to choose—is a non-issue
  • Highly proficient in a subset of techniques
  • Sub-specializations

#5 – The Principles Are All the Same

For most, we have 2 arms, 2 legs, torso and a head. The human body and physics don’t change based on the martial art you choose to study. My Sensei has always said, “if you close your eyes, let one karate black belt, one boxer and one Thai boxer punch you in the face, would you be able to tell the difference? Of course not, they would all hurt!”

The same would be true concerning an arm-bar applied by a BJJ, Sambo and Judo practitioner.

Often martial arts schools like to promote the idea that their method is better than another. The reality is the principles that govern the techniques of one school are exactly the same as any other. It’s a teacher’s understanding and how they communicate those principles that determine the strength of their methods.

The principles that govern ALL martial arts systems include:

  • Force
  • Momentum
  • The 5 ancient machines
    • Pulley
    • Wheel and Axel
    • Wedge/Inclined Plane
    • Screw (which is a variation on a wedge)
    • Lever
      • Class 1 (Load, Fulcrum, Effort)
      • Class 2 (Effort, Load, Fulcrum)
      • Class 3 (Load, Effort, Fulcrum)
  • Tool, Location, Intensity, Angle, Direction = The Application Formula

It is important to be reminded of this because looking at martial arts as a set of principles allows you to transcend individual techniques and see the practice as a whole.


In Japanese martial arts, we liken our study to a path. Often, we quote the following:

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but there is only one moon to be seen for those who achieve its summit.”

– Chinese Proverb

Over the years, I have walked several paths simultaneously, enjoying each new road as much as the next.  Taking the time to walk these unexplored pathways may initially require greater investment, but it’s has proven to show some useful shortcuts.

But as we all know, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Despite my background, I know my exploration of BJJ will offer many peaks and valleys that are yet to come. When I meet them, I look forward to greeting them like old friends.