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GET REAL: Channelling the fighting spirit


GET REAL: Channelling the fighting spirit

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IN BARBADOS, WE have communities with nicknames like Lebanon, Beirut and the Gulf.   

There appears to be a stepped up drive to live up to those types of nicknames. This fascination with war zones reflects a hole in the life of the Barbadian male.

In Barbados, like many other postcolonial societies, the warrior spirit was violently oppressed and suppressed. A look at a list of the places in the world with the highest homicide rates shows an over-representation of the Caribbean, Latin America, and North American inner cities.

Anything that is unnaturally supressed will usually find expression in excessive and dysfunctional ways. 

Within a relatively peaceful nation there can be specific communities that are like war zones: communities where the police is an occupying force, gangs are warring armies, and young men die violently daily. Jamaican police went into Tivoli Gardens with armoured tanks looking for Dudus Coke. The city of Chicago is nicknamed Chiraq because observers compare the yearly death toll from gun violence to the number of Americans killed during the war on Iraq. The homicide victims and perpetrators are usually young men.

Young men have high levels of testosterone. The hormone testosterone tends to increase aggression. When there are the additional ingredients of poverty, unemployment, a lack of cultural identity, a poor educational system, and a traumatic history, you have a recipe for problems.

Every society in history has had some kind of method for harnessing and directing the natural warrior energy of young males so that it did not backfire on the community. Is it a coincidence that today, the highest rates of homicide are among cultures where invaders decimated the warrior tradition and continue to discourage its development?

In North America and Europe, in addition to large standing military forces, there is a tradition of combat sports. Amateur wrestling, fencing, lacrosse and the like are not major money earners but they are supported because of the cultural and social relevance. They are Rights of Passage. Young men with the impulse to physical confrontation have well structured means of relieving themselves. 

Here, we demonise those kind of males. We violently try to exorcise them of their aggressive streak, often by flogging or emotional violence. The saying is “boys will be boys.” Yet we often try to beat the “boy” out of them. Some boys will be more boyish that others and not have the skill to compromise. Those are the ones most likely to be disciplined for not being able to sit still. I remember being flogged in school for coming back from lunch with a sweaty shirt.

It is as if our educational system is specifically designed to break boys.

Nature is violent. Combat is instinctive. Everything fights. From mice to men. And when fights start, it is natural to want to grab popcorn. If two lions clash jaws and claws on the African savannah, you better believe there is a bunch of gazelles spectating. One of those lions attacked them recently, and they are cheering for the other one to rip a hole in his mane. A civilised society is not one where there is no fighting, but one where there are clear rules of engagement.

As much as we may claim to abhor violence, the evidence suggests different. Acknowledge the popularity of violent themes in movies and music. Acknowledge the popularity of violent sports. Acknowledge that millions of viewers love to see a line backer in the NFL crush a quarterback, and that the boxer Floyd Mayweather Junior is one of the highest paid athletes in the world. Acknowledge that even if you are not personally interested in being violent, you still may have a fascination with it.

Do not be fooled into thinking we are so civilised and high above the animal kingdom that it is possible for us to deafen ourselves to the call of nature.  It is not wise to think that because we have a police force and laws and education and religion that we can easily turn the lion within us into a lamb. 

For some of us, this is not a big issue. Some of us have matured away from the urge to fight. Or the fight to earn a living has consumed us. Some of us have never been in a physical fight and may never will. It may be that the frontal lobe of our brain is so active, that we have incredible control of our impulses. Or it may be that we had more lamb than lion in us to begin with. 

But what do we do with those of us who were seemingly born with pit bull parts, and all the law and religion and education in the world will not quiet the call of the wild? A society must try to channel that fighting spirit into some useful direction. We see what happens when there is no well thought out channel.

One possible way of addressing out of control violence, is to introduce young people to violence in a controlled, organised setting. We can satisfy the natural attraction and impulse to combat while teaching respect, camaraderie and discipline at the same time. Boxing used to play this role in underprivileged Western societies. This is the role the martial arts still plays in parts of Asia, like China and Japan. However, when sports are commercialised, the personal and social development aspect is often lost. It is curious that amateur wrestling and fencing have not been commercialised in the same way boxing has. 

The emphasis in most of our sports today, from very early, is placed on competition rather than character development. This is a mistake. It may be too late to shift the mindset in basketball and football, but the martial arts still retains some sense of a character building focus. 

It is time for a national martial arts programme.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email: [email protected]