17 July, 2012


GM Nam Kyu Yoon carrying the '88 Olympic Torch

When I was a child, violence was a portion of my everyday life.

It was not unduly important or meaningful, like it may have been in the childhoods of persistent bullies or abused children. But it was still there, like sleeping or eating. Violence was something I went through every day and never really gave much thought to changing.

I took martial arts classes for a long time, earning medals in the state championships for my age group. With my friends, we would play role playing games where long sticks were used, and each of us would hit each other liberally with staffs. Our intent was to block each strike, but if a block was not made, the fault was that of the blocker, not the attacker. We even played a form of tag that used small stones we would throw toward each others' torsos; if you were hit by a stone, you were "it".

None of these things ever went "too far". I do not bruise easily, and I doubt any parental figures knew I did dangerous things when out with my friends as a child -- if you can call them truly dangerous. We knew enough to stay away from playing with things that can really hurt. Once, while playing king of the hill, one neighborhood kid claimed the top while wielding a shovel. My response then was to back down. We stayed away from sharp objects, and when I practiced with nunchaku, I made sure that no one else was within a few feet of me.

Anger was not something that I associated with violence back then. Intellectually, of course, I knew they were linked, but it was a very rare event for violence to enter my life alongside anger. On a few occasions, my father used violence to discipline me; once, at school I was challenged to a fight that ended with them hitting me and my not returning any blows. But other than these incidents, violence was just a game to me. A way to bleed off excess energy.

It did not always stay this way, though.

Perhaps the thing I am least proud of is the fact that I started out viewing violence as unconnected to anger, and then, for some reason, I came to associate them whenever I was upset. I became a bully toward those children that I felt deserved it; in a way, I conceived of myself as a superhero, I suppose. But none of them ever fought back. I was violent toward early girlfriends, too. My bitterness was overwhelming, and the way I acted toward even friends and family is quite horrifying to me now.

It would be one thing, I guess, if I started out like that and grew out of it. But I have to admit that when it comes to violence, I started out only acting violently among those who consented, like in our games of tag. I even got in a school fight where I refused to throw a punch because I knew it was wrong to fight.

But no. I started out knowing that violence was inappropriate in many circumstances, and grew to use violence whenever I became angry. I became a worse person.

It took a long time before I realized that violence was (almost) never appropriate. Even just a few years ago, I can remember getting angry and responding by hitting a window, breaking it completely. Today, I am glad to know that I have finally denied that part of me from ever taking hold again. I have not been violent toward anything with a brain for a very long time, and have not even been violent with inanimate objects for quite a while. I have become a pacifist, not just for personal reasons, but for philosophical ones as well. I believe military intervention does so much more harm than good that it cannot possibly be justified except in circumstances that do not occur in reality.

Uncle Mike Tomaso with UFC Champion Joyce Gracie
When I look back to my childhood, I regret even the violent consensual games I used to play with friends. I was never a good thrower, and I imagine now that back then the reason I was "it" more than others was to get back at me for all those staff blows I'd make when they were too slow to block. Even in consensual situations, violence is just too dangerous to fully justify without safety gear on.

The only violence of my youth that I do not regret was my martial arts training. Grand Master Nam Kyu Yoon was an excellent teacher for me, and I am proud of the extra-curricular lessons my uncle Mike Tomaso put me through before he opened his own martial arts academy. This is what violence should be: consensual AND safe. I just wish I could have learned these lessons earlier on in my life.

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