March 30, 2008
For nearly nine years, beginning in 1990, I was very active as a martial artist. At the end of my active participation I had achieved the rank of nedan, or second degree black belt. I competed at local, state, and national levels. At my peak I placed third in the Men’s 35+ Black Belt division at the 1997 National Championships. Along the way I suffered two broken fingers, a broken nose, and a torn medial collateral ligament. I share this information to establish my familarity with the idea of training and competing in a martial sport.
This past evening I attended the Golden Gloves boxing championships here in Kansas City. This is the third time I’ve attended, going with a friend from work. My friend’s father has attended every Kansas City championship for the last 40 years, and I’ve been included with a largish group that goes every year.
My perspective has changed between last year and this, I found myself looking at the event, and what it signifies, with new eyes tonight. My fiancée, Sibylle, made a comment regarding the event this week, that stuck with me and gave me this new perspective. She said,
I think there's a definite difference between martial arts and boxing: to me, the goal of a martial arts match/fight/tournament is to subdue your opponent, through strength, power, speed, special movements/motions. The goal of a boxing match is to hurt each other until one of the two gives up. And that's what I don't understand: why would anyone want to watch - derive pleasure from watching - people hurt each other?
The atmosphere at the venue this evening wasn’t overly aggressive, this isn’t like the mixed martial arts or ultimate fighting championships that have become popular of late. This is classic boxing with rigid rules, protective gear, and outstanding officiating. Still there was an air of tension, of fear, and of aggression. People were vocal and active in shouting support for their fighter. The people at my table weren’t rude or out of control, but there was an heightened energy among them.
Observing others I saw cheers and jeers as one fighter or another dominated the ring, and his opponent. No one was serious injured while I was there, although several of the fighters were bloodied in their bout. One fighter was knocked out cold. This brought a large response from the crowd. All of them, at least at some level, were reacting to this man being completely dominated, and defeated, by the other fighter. The highlight films of an automobile race always show the crashes, the “best of reel” for boxing shows the knockouts, and people slow on the highway to gape at an accident scene.
I don’t think we are all blood-thirsty savages, but I do see a bit of the old Roman Colosseum in our past times and sports. Whether it is a “there but for the grace of God go I” thing, or just schadenfreude, I do not know. What I do know is that I appreciate the distinction between “improving ones self” and “hurting others” to win.