“How do you raise a child in safety in a world that is getting more violent by the day?” Some parents recently explored the question as their children played. Three mothers and a father were already engaged in (what seemed to me) an act of bullying hysteria when my daughter moved closer. I heard different versions of how the parents were terrified that their child would become the victim of bullying and have their precious esteems demolished. At that point I was eavesdropping, not participating.
One of the mothers must have known I was ear hustling; she brought me into the conversation. “So, what do you think?” All eyes shifted and focused on me. My daughter quickly climbed to the top of the play structure, removing herself as a possible excuse for my not becoming involved.
“Think about what?” I asked with feigned innocence.
The father in the group, using much more bass in his voice than he used with the women, clarified: “How do we protect our kids from all the violence they are sure to encounter? Is there a way to keep them safe from being bullied?”
Here I was, the lone brother in a group of seemingly upper middle class White and Asian parents. I couldn’t help thinking I was about to confirm a stereotype of Black men. They all collectively balked at my suggestion: “Teach them how to be comfortable with violence.”
They stumbled over each other’s words as they simultaneously attempted to assimilate and repudiate my position. All manner of how what I said was “contradictory” and “just as damaging” were cast at me. I used my old teacher’s trick and held up my hand until they quieted down. Then I asked them if they would be interested in hearing my rationale.
I have trained in some form of martial art for the past 30 years. While I did go through a street-fighting phase where I was acting beneath my values, I would attribute my participating in martial arts as one of the key reasons why I’m so disciplined and confident. Most of my close friends are involved in some form of martial art and would co-sign my assertion that training is partly why they’re successful today.
As soon as my daughter could stand, I was teaching her how to throw punches, kicks, elbows and defensive footwork. After a while, around her fourth birthday, she started to become competent. Now she is good. I’d dare say that she’ll have talent when it comes to defending herself and others. The best part about my training her is that she enjoys it. While I have been a fighter up until recently, I want my daughter to be a warrior.
I don’t remember where I first heard the following (paraphrased) quote, but I’ve heard variations of it for years: “A fighter fights to define his or her self. They fight, not for the liberation of others, but for self-aggrandizement and ego. A warrior fights when called to do so. When they aren’t fighting, they are loving and compassionate beings that are prepared to fight, if necessary.”
I feel that I would be not be acting in the best interests of my daughter if I didn’t introduce her to martial arts. I don’t want her to be a victim, nor do I want her to freeze if confronted with violence. I want her to be able to act, to effectively defend herself and repel the thing that attacks her and come back home to her mother and I. I know too many women who have been attacked—some severely—and continue to experience trauma from the incident. I have illusions that my daughter will be able to repel any or all attacks that may happen to her.
There are too many factors in an altercation to predict a successful defense. But I do know being prepared is much better than not being prepared. The ancillary benefit of my daughter practicing martial arts is that she’s a brave and confident young girl. She knows her body’s potential. She knows she can hurt people, but doesn’t have to—and can take responsibility for her actions.
We were training one day, and my daughter kicked me full in the nose, causing it to bleed. She rushed and hugged me. I beamed with pride, as it was a very good kick. “I’m so sorry, Daddy,” she said, squeezing me as tightly as she could. “I wasn’t paying attention. But if you were a bad guy, I wouldn’t be sorry. Not at all.” Lesson learned. Not quite sure if my fellow park parents understood the lesson. Not at all.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.