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How Martial Arts Teach Nonviolence


American’s have been fascinated by martial arts since the mid 1970′s to 1980′s.  A Chinese man from San Francisco, California  named Lee Jun-fan would change the entire planet with his films. We came to know him by the name Bruce Lee.

Movies like The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon altered the U.S. film industry and the minds of American people forever.  His movies brought a new idea to what it meant to fight, and what it meant to be a fighter. Bruce Lee spoke differently, he talked of the importance of self knowledge, and fearless free expression.

These were not things American folks usually accepted with the idea of combat.
Around the same time, the Shaw Brothers began to make their own films like 36 Chambers of Shaolin, Five Deadly Venoms and One-Armed Swordsmen hypnotized the American masses. They instilled a new the idea of what violence, honor, respect, discipline, humility and human character meant.
This fascination with martial arts culture took an even bigger turn when the TV Show Kung-Fu aired. It was not the best TV show ever made. There were many racist undertones in the show from time to time. However, some of the conversations between the original Master Po and his students.

Additionally, these films and TV shows introduced a new idea of how to practice  nonviolence to Americans from all walks of life. These films had an affect music as well. Rap music from artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Dilated Peoples,Andre Nickatina, Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys, One Be Lo and many others have paid much homage to the impact of the movies and the philosophies learned from them.
The work of Bruce Lee, The Shaw Brothers, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and other films of the time helped teach Whites and Blacks alike the power of peace. To seek peace not  just outside ourselves, but more importantly the one we all seek inside ourselves.

Unfortunately the biggest mistake we make in the West is to think that someone who loves to study boxing,  kung-fu, wrestling or jiu-jitsu loves to fight. We think somewhere internally they enjoy hurting other people.
Now take a look at Buddhist monks. They are known globally as one of the most peaceful people on the planet. But they are also known for having a long tradition of cultivating self defense techniques.It is precisely because they have extensive knowledge of how to break bones and choke people, that they choose not to.
Let me be clear. When someone lashes out at a woman and swings wildly at her, it is proof that they’ve lost emotional control.

That act is completely different from the woman being swung on to tactically evade the fist coming at her. If she decides it is necessary to isolate her attackers arm, and  break it so she can be safe- that is nonviolence. She has created no violence in a space where violence was prevalent. Buddhism teaches nonviolence without question. Still Buddhists were taught that to observe injustice going on and do nothing made one worse than “devils.”

Martial arts films are the only movies in existence that consistently show women of clear mind and action fully capable of defending themselves. In America we look at women who can fight as “manly” and unattractive. Martial arts encourage women to learn self defense to cultivate and preserve their beauty and spirit. At the same time, we learn that violence is never to be taken lightly. That seemingly casually aggressive situations can turn deadly fast.

The roots of what motivated the attacker and the response from the woman who was attacked came from two different places. The attack came from rage or a desire for power. The response the woman gave was rooted in self preservation and a desire for peace. Jet Li was recently explaining the meaning of martial arts to CulturePulp :

In Chinese writing, wushu comes from two words: one is “stop” and one is “war.” “Stop-war.” In most action films, people focus on the “war.” Fighting, fighting, fighting. Violence against violence. Nobody talks about the “stop.” [laughs]

Today MMA (mixed martial arts) is taking over the world. The sport proves humanity has evolved to a place where martial artists can test their skills safely and make a great living a it. It is also important to acknowledge that many of the fighters you see in the UFC and Strikeforce

 almost never get caught up with the law. They are often far too focused on their physical and mental well being to run the streets trying to hurt people for the sake of their ego.

Now we see bullying as a long ignored social epidemic. We see crimes against women and young girls as a global cancer. Our children are also horribly out of shape. Teen obesity and disease from poor health are common among our kids. It is not the parents, educators or politicians who are helping America solve this issue. It is a family of martial artists, named the Gracie’s. Two brothers, Rener and Ryron Gracie, created Bullyproof and Women Empowered for children and adult women  in need of realistic ways to protect themselves.  Their cousin Kyra Gracie is respected around the world for her accomplishments. Beyond the self defense techniques, the students are taught about thepsychology of an attacker so they can used “verbal jiu jitsu” to evade a confrontation altogether.

Today we see many of today blockbuster movies for kids like Kung Fu Panda and Jaden Smith’s Karate Kidintroducing young people to the ideas of self discipline, inner peace and learning the power of not fighting. In these ways, the martial arts fused with film and music have helped preserve the legacy of nonviolence laid down in America by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


How Hip-Hop Teaches Nonviolence

As the anniversary of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrives, I cannot help but thank God for my parents. Long before it was a legal holiday, my parents took me out of school on his birthday. My mom and dad were strategic in their rebellion against the American school system.

That was how they honored his life, before the nation had the sense to do the same. We did not BBQ. I did not sleep in on Dr. King’s birthday. I read about Black history, my duty to learn from it and seek better for our people. I was taught to celebrate his life by respecting all life. I never met another kid who had parents that took such an approach to Dr. Kings birthday. I realize now that my parents were nonviolent revolutionaries. Today, with my own children I am working to pick up the torch they gave me in my youth. Hip-Hop music, has helped keep me stay in tune with the mission of Dr. King along the way.

Despite passing long before the seeds of Hip-Hop had began to bloom, rap music itself is an act of nonviolence. Many might immediately take offense to this or laugh. However if you look at even some of the most violent rap you can think of, it is still just a song. Any rapper who rhymes about killing, could have picked up a gun. Instead they chose to pick up a pen. I’m not defending the content of murderous rap. What I am saying is that they chose to write an angry poem, instead of using their felling to commit a violent act. That’s choosing nonviolence!

Dr. King spoke directly to the importance of education. In the era of Hip-Hop’s “Golden Age” knowledge was a duty for most rappers. Public Enemy, Rakim, Ice Cube and many others laid a clear foundation for promoting nonviolence in Hip-Hop.

Songs like Ice-T’s The Hunted Child , Ice Cube’s Colorblind illustrated in graphic detail about the consequence of violence on the streets. While embraced as a classics within the Hip-Hop community, mainstream media hardly acknowledge its existence. Even today rappers like Game and Nas will make songs in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and it gets almost no recognition by Black or White media outlets. So, they must be doing it for more than the money? They get zero reward for speaking about peace, and only hit the charts when they sing of murdering their own. We should applaud their courage and accept their sincerity.

In recent years songs like I Know I Can by Nas, Sabac Red’s The Commitment and T-KASH’sPeace To My Enemies motivate feet and minds to live better.

Dr. King took the power of God’s love to the streets. Hip-Hop music comes from the streets. This means that it will not always say things that are fun or easy to digest. But it will always be honest. Songs like Sticky Fingaz Oh My GodKanye West’s Jesus Walks and Rakim’s Who Is God? are brilliant illustrations of some of the spiritual aspirations circulating within the Hip-Hop community. The RZA from Wu-Tang Clan made an amazing song about love for The Creator called Sunshineon the album 8 Diagrams. Rapper Killer Mike wrote amazing verses about spiritual redemption with God In The Building. Many of these songs may not be in the Top 4o. But they keep the people on the streets motivated to embrace God. I don’t believe Dr. King would want it any other way. Let us remember he died on the way to protect the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis.

While many have taken on Dr. King’s mission of nonviolence, his crusade against poverty has been largely ignored. Poverty knows no color. The empty stomach of a child in Oakland does not hurt any less than the stomach of a child in Chechnya. A Mexican mother without food, worries no less than a White mom in Minnesota. Until I worked at a high school in San Francisco, I had not true understanding of poverty. This opened my eyes to the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr., almost more than anything else.

I have learned that starving student cannot study. I have seen “underground railroads” of food emerge in response. Many teachers argue against kids attitudes in class. Others see food in the classroom a nuisance. I understand how frustrating it can be for a dedicated teacher to endure it. Kids appear to be disruptive in class, but they can’t hear the math lesson over the rumble in their stomach. I’ve watched kids walk down hallways in shoes with soles that literally are about to peel off the bottom of their foot and be mocked by others. I’ve seen kids walk around in clothes they’ve outgrown due to a growth spurt. So their growth is a silent curse as their parents cannot afford new clothes. I’m not talking only about just Black children. I see this as global burden. Poverty is an oppressive demon and in many cases is the root of why violence happens and why we (humans) excuse it many times. One might be able to argue that the bulk of the violence in Hip-Hop is in direct proportion to the initial state of poverty its performers existed in.

The impact of poverty on the heart and mind can be seen in the music of artists like Apathy’s Check to Check, or Vinnie Paz’s Keep Movin ‘ On . They leave deep impressions about the reality of poverty. In an Occupy Wall St. era, their lyrics sting with searing precision. In his time, Dr. King’s words had the same effect.

I love Jazz, Blues and Rock. I love Gospel and all other forms of Black music from the African diaspora. But nothing has pushed nonviolence as consistently and as bold as rap music.

It is a fact we cannot deny. This fact does not undo much of the violence and sexism and celebration of materialism in Hip-Hop. Yet it was Bid Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and Kool G Rap that reminded me to Erase Racism. What the subculture of Hip-Hop has achieved, I will not allow to be denied. I thank Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his sacrifice every time I hear a rapper embrace peace. Happy birthday Dr. King. Those love Hip-Hop continue to keep your message alive.