The Art Of Fighting Without Fighting

Most of my acquaintances will tell you that I look like a very unassuming kind of guy. A geek my whole life, I have always worn dweeby clothes and never really put on airs pretending to a high degree of badassery. If you see me walking down the street you do not hear the song “Bad To The Bone” playing. Rather, it would probably be “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me, but occasionally I find myself running afoul of a redneck. Living in Kentucky, this is bound to happen. Additionally, it happens to me even more since I work Security for a local business and have to ID various contractors from day to day, some of whom are felons with a natural disposition to resent, and resist, authority. Most of the time I seek my Center (or Zenter, if you will excuse the terrible pun) and let it roll off of me like so much hogwash. Yet, I must confess that occasionally I do want to surrender to my inner tiger and uppercut a couple of “good ol’ boys” when they say something passive-aggressive (often in passing and at a distance since such people are always cowards). The thing is, as my acquaintances will attest, I don’t look like a fighter. In fact, I am of a slender build and have fluffy hair (which my fiancee adores, thankfully) and I tend to cultivate a courteous demeanor. I am, in some ways, not unlike a certain Martial Arts master whose philosophy and fighting acumen have inspired me throughout my life. This person, of course, is the legendary Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee was one of the reasons I began my Martial Arts journey over two decades ago. Here was a man whose life was written by the philosophy he believed. Moreover, he was a peerless fighter who pioneered so many things which the rest of us Western Martial Artists take for granted. For example, he was one of the first to teach Martial Arts to Americans. He also formulated his own Martial Arts—called Jeet Kune Do, or the Way of the Intercepting Fist—and embodied a philosophy that reconciled a lot of Eastern and Western thought into something that was greater than the sum of its parts. He was a Renaissance Man. Idolizing him, I studied Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do— in which I earned my first black belt— Kajukenbo Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and boxing. Studying him in the dojo, (or dojang), helped me not only to handle the rednecks of the world, but my own need for self-discipline and self-betterment. His lessons lent themselves to all the areas of my life. As a writer and an artist I utilize what he taught me. The pursuit of perfection, after all, is endless, and he inspired me to emulate his focused drive in the life I live (even if I falter and fall short of the aim sometimes).
Yet, there was more to him than jump kicks and two-inch punches. Despite being an amazing Martial Artist, Bruce Lee also valued the Yang aspect of Martial Arts, or passivity. His notion of the“art of fighting without fighting” wasn’t just some catchy koan to throw about to sound wiser than the people around you, but something that hints at the core of humanity and the basis of continued civilization. That is to say, our world works as well as it does because we do not, generally speaking, kill the guy who disrespects us. This refusal to follow Nature’s “tooth and claw” paradigms saves the world every minute of our lives. Without it, we would be feral beasts succored on blood.
I have lived a long time among the redneck demographic and I know that if there is an alligator nearby they will want to grab it by the tail, heedless of the consequences. And I COULD bite, if I ever surrendered to the inclination, but I instead choose to keep calm and persist in friendliness as much as I can. When I have confronted these cowards, they tend to walk away, mouthing things under their breath. Later, when they are entering the plant again, I tell them “Good morning” or “Have a good day” and they will, for the most part, mumble something likewise while staring at the ground. See, that is how I have won: they realize what they have done and become ashamed of themselves. That is the art of fighting without fighting. That is the wisdom Bruce Lee gave to me.

I rarely plug anyone’s book, but a book I have owned for over a decade now is the wonderful “The Warrior Within” by John Little. It was endorsed by Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda, and is a great place to start understanding the legend and how he can inspire all of us. It has many anecdotes and quotes and several sections regarding different aspects of Bruce Lee’s life. One of the most wonderful passages is in the section wherein Bruce Lee’s ideas about romantic relationships are discussed. He believed something that I, too, believe in regard to my own relationship with my fiancee: he says that he and his wife were like coals, burning warm and long together rather than flaring out in a blaze of passion. This, I believe, is the perfect image of a mature, healthy relationship and is the same sort of relationship I share with my fiancee. We do not party. We do not rely on mutual friends. We stay together and are happy, even if the whole world should fizzle out, leaving us together, burning contentedly in the ashes of the world.

Human History

Some say Time is a river
and some say an Indian giver.
Some say it is a loop
circling around like a hoop,
whereas others attempt to spoil it
as something spiraling within a toilet.
But Time, you see, is a cage
and our history is a coprophage.
Iconographically, it is a sow
born and bred in the Now;
so myopic that it is almost blind,
seeing from the front as it does from behind,
rolling around in its confining cage,
claustrophobic unto a rage,
its nose ring preventing it from digging
to escape the spiral-barbed rigging.
It sees each wall as if for the first time,
and despite the familiar rust, dirt and grime,
and the bloodstains and the tattered skin,
it rams the fanged walls of its prison.
Afterwards, while wounded and bleeding
it comforts itself with frenzied feeding
upon its own free-flowing blood
as it trickles upon the filth and mud.
Perhaps it is disgusting behavior,
but there is no deliverance, no savior
to open that cage and let us out
as we snort and squeal and seek with our snout.
The sow is scarred
and barred,
wallowing
and swallowing,
we are that sow—
stuck in the Now.
It is no mystery,
our history.
It is a boar,
and nothing more.
Even when birthing a farrow,
we are confined by the narrow.
Even when it eats its own shit
we are the same as it.

Echoes Of Betrayal

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A sultan lived in a lavish palace
with a throne room vast and wide
and everyday he quaffed from his chalice,
his mind reeling with wine and pride.
One day he addressed his sycophantic court
and his words returned to him as if from the garret,
repeating above him, in petulant retort,
as though spoken by an irreverent parrot.
The sultan doffed his turban to better look
at its silk-and-jewel wrapped crest,
thinking a talking bird somehow mistook
its expanse for a roost or perch or nest.
When he found no stowaway bird
he scratched his head, feeling perplexed,
but soon a faint cough could be heard
from his court, and he became vexed.
“Think you safe?” he suddenly cried
at the meek members of his court;
“For that jest I shall have your neck tied
in a noose for morrow’s sport!”
And he pointed toward his vizier
whose misfortune was to be engaged
with the fool, blanching with fear,
and promptly taken and caged.
The sultan was a man of pride
and so he always kept his word—
if he said something then woe betide
anyone whom he thereby censured.
Upon the morrow the sage was hung
in the center of the public square,
and all because he had a phlegmy lung
with want of a little clearer air.

Later that day the sultan spoke again
to the great crowd gathered in his hall,
hoping to find among his many men
a new vizier to help him rule them all.
Yet, as he announced his intent
he heard his own words repeat again
and, furious, he searched for the miscreant
who had dared to commit such sin.
“Who said that?!” he demanded.
“Who dares this mockery now?”
No one came forth, but his eye landed
upon a man with a furrowed brow.
“You, there!” the sultan said with a roar,
pointing at his own captain of the guard.
“You insolent son of a whore!
Flog him through the streets! Flog him hard!”
The mamluk was thereupon taken
by his own men and immediately stripped
down to his dark skin, the whole court shaken
as he was bound and beaten and whipped.
The man’s body was a bloody mass of welts
and he could not stand—faint of breath,
his skin like the crimson inlay of pelts
until his croaking surrender to death.

The sultan’s wrath ebbed and flowed
as with the wines of his chalice
and everyday his own voice would goad
him toward greater paranoia and malice.
Soon his vast throne room was emptied
of all loyalists, guards, and servants,
yet still he heard someone in need
of punishment for their irreverence.
The hall now empty of all people except him,
the sultan heard mockery still, the taunts
making him think it was a ghost whose whim
was to make his palace into its favored haunts,
so he sent for the most revered imam
that lived in his large sultanate
requesting his service to grant him salam
and rid his palace of the reprobate.
The imam arrived and listened for the spirit,
hearing nothing except the sultan’s heavy breathing,
but nonetheless blessed the hall, and all near it,
to please his master and calm his seething.
Yet, as the imam uttered a very poetic prayer
the sultan heard the prayer thereupon repeated
and, losing his temper, grabbed the imam by his hair
and yanked him about, his rage overheated.
“You useless, rambling, imbecilic dotard!”
the Sultan exclaimed with a lion’s roar.
“You are no holy man! You are a goatherd
and I will not be led astray by the horns anymore!”
He ordered the imam bound in heavy chains,
his tongue cut out, and his minaret torn down,
and the imam was taken across the Central Asian plains
to be sold to a khan as a mute circus clown.

The sultan then looked upon his vast hall
and, seeing it empty, was nonetheless incensed
at the mocking reply of his earnest call
that his palace be at once and wholly silenced.
The ghost remained, or so it seemed,
and to purge it from his extravagant palace
was only something thereof dreamed
as he drained to dregs another chalice.
“By the power of Allah!” he suddenly cried,
“I curse you, wraith, with ridicule and laughter
so that wherever you go, wherever you hide,
you will be a famous, friendless fool forever after!”
Allah heard the sultan’s furious pleas
and answered his hasty invocation,
sending thereto a legion of djinnis
to chase the sultan from his nation.
“By Allah, I see them now!” the sultan moaned,
fleeing from the seat of his rule;
“The demons of the fiery pits,” he groaned,
“and I am but a lost, unworthy fool!”
And so it came to pass that the sultan fled
from Turkey to Palestine and even to Israel,
fleeing forever the curse put upon his own head
because he had mistaken his own echoes for betrayal.

Cynic

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A croaking, crow-throated jester
who thinks himself the charnel king
of all things that fade and fester;
he delights in such corpse-feasting.

He is a fat frog, smug and bloated
on the flies that swarm a swamp of Death,
his complacent lily pad moated
by fetid waters and a miasmic breath.

Nor is he a frog-prince long ago cursed
by a witch using her black magic arts,
neither can his warty soul be reversed;
his smirk widens at an appeal to hearts.

Maggot-minded, his brains always teem
with the roadkill joys of life,
wallowing in the gangrenous cream
of accidents and tragedies and strife.

Battlefields are his favored playgrounds,
finding in their carnage endless mirth
as men are piled up in crimson mounds;
good fertilizer, he says, for the earth.

He is a patient vulture always at the edges,
like a valkyrie watching for warriors to fall
and laughing at them as he slyly hedges
his bets against one side, the other, and all.

He, himself, never cheers for any side,
considering Folly to be his only consort
as he admires his endlessly amusing bride
for her comic, cosmic, and karmic sport.

He is an organ harvester, a corpse collector,
a snide merchant of knowing smirks,
a plague doctor pleased by each new vector,
the profaner of the world’s most tragic works.

And, anthrax-tongued, his words devour
even the most cadaverous meaning left to us
dissembling like a carcass, hour to hour,
until only the bones remain—mors perpetuus.

Like Ammit, with its grinning crocodilian teeth,
as hearts are weighed on Judgment’s scales,
he awaits the caprices of Death to bequeath
his own sick pleasure in others’ travails.

He is ever a fiddleback recluse feeding
on those ensnared by the Web of Fate;
feeding on Life’s ironies, and always needing
more to satisfy his appetite for hate.

He is a carrion-seeking vulture
picking at the ruin of other peoples’ lives,
living only to enjoy a nihilistic culture
and speaking with a beak of butcher knives.

See how he feasts upon sorrow and ruin and rot,
claiming that he cares not one whit?
That is because he wishes to feel naught
and is, like me, a hypocrite.

I Am The Rain

I am the rain,
teardrops on the window pane,
swelling the river with rushing water
to drown the farmer’s little daughter.
I blind the commuting father of three
so he hydroplanes into a tree,
and I dampen the California hills
until the mudslide slips and and drips and spills,
smashing the house while the children sleep
and burying them down in the damp and the deep.
I flood the sewage in the swirling storm drains
until refuse rises along the lanes
and everyone sickens from drinking
the bad water, foul and stinking.
I drown the prospering fields
and all of their harvest yields.
I breathe fog up from the grass
until you cannot see where you pass
so you stumble down the ravine
opening up beneath you, hitherto unseen.

I am the rain
helping to grow the grain
and tapping on the tin roof
like fairy feet, small and aloof.
I renew lakes, creeks, and rivers,
being among the most selfless givers,
letting you drink me to quench your thirst
and being, perhaps, the one to baptize you first,
kissing your brow, your nose, your chin, your cheeks
with many plops and pecks and trickling streaks,
and hushing you with my pitter-patter
while speaking with a gentle smatter
as you lay yourself down to sleep—
much better counting me than sheep.
I cool your brow on hot Summer days
and refract the sun’s shining rays
to festoon the earth with a spectral bow
as if ribbons were made from their glow.
I shower the Spring with its due
so it may blossom to a lovely view.

I am the rain,
feeling no regret or disdain
nor sadness or madness or reason;
I am indifferent in every season.
I fall where I fall,
over some, over none,
over one and over all,
laying still, or on the run,
my work is never done.

Mors Vincit Omnia

Did carrion birds
perch atop Christ
as they do you, scarecrow?
Did they mock his crucifixion
by pruning their tail feathers
on his outspread arms?
Strange that by dying
he was supposed to defeat Death
and yet Death ate his fill
while the body gave up the spirit—
not unlike you, scarecrow,
made of straw and corn
which these disciples of Death
drag out in gleeful disarray
like confetti at a victory party.
Sometimes I wonder at
Christ’s true expression
as those winged shadows cackled
their cynic’s laughter.
Was it bravery? Dread?
Doubt?
Or was it akin to your steadfast smile,
scarecrow,
stitched stiffly into place
by someone else’s forceful hand
as you face your existential crisis
and find your life’s purpose
ultimately futile?