This weekend, I have been visiting in the Hudson River Valley, and I was shocked to see how badly this area was hit by hurricane Irene. Sure, I had heard that long beach got hit pretty hard, and that New York City got a lot of rain and wind, but I hadn’t really heard much else. Even where I was visiting, which is an hour and a half West of the coast line, Many people had lost power for the better part of a week, trees and power lines were knocked down all over the place, and some small towns North of here had been completely wiped out by mud slides or flood waters. The phrase “completely wiped out” is not an exageration; the towns were literally leveled. I can only imagine what the damage must have been inNew Jerseyand other areas that were more directly in the storm’s path.
The interruption to peoples’ lives here is huge. Of the people who were affected, some just lost power for a few days which is enough ruin all the perishable foods one has plus remove a source of drinking water since pressurized plumbing requires electricity. Transportation to many areas was cut off due to fallen trees and power lines and flood waters that over three feet deep! For some, like those who lived in the small towns that were destroyed, the losses were catastrophic: loss of food, drinking water, shelter, and the means to one’s livelihood. Thousands of people were thrust into an emergency situation of some degree or another.
This brings me to the point of this post: how should a martial artist handle this sort of situation? It is something that I think gets to the heart of what sort of persons we ought to be as martial artists. I have always used the word “warrior” to describe this sort of person. I distinguish the term warrior from other words like “fighter” or “soldier.”
A fighter is someone with high combative ability but someone who is not necessarily concerned with his or her responsibilities to society. A warrior is not just concerned with his or her combative training; a warrior is also concerned with contributing to a better society, promoting peace, and helping develop a better culture.
While perhaps in a less social and cultural vein, a soldier is similarly concerned with benefiting society. Soldiers seek to protect the citizenry from violent aggression from other nations and to assist in states of emergency (the National Guard is helping citizens with the clean up and coping in the aftermath of hurricane Irene). Soldiers are agents of the government and answerable to the current political powers which is their main difference from warriors. Warriors answer only to themselves and are driven by morality and virtues as opposed to political agenda and government funding. Many soldiers are also concerned with morality and high ideals, but it is an attribute that is not necessary to the profession.
Above all else, a warrior is a highly skilled individual motivated by idealism and virtue who seeks to benefit society and culture. From a deterministic standpoint, a society’s collective combative ability rests at the base of its ability to have a peaceful, prosperous, and well organized community (see this post for a more in depth look at how combative ability benefits society).
So how then is a martial artist to respond if his or her community were to be hit by a storm like Irene. Obviously, a martial artist should strive to help others. The easiest things could be helping neighbors clean up debris like fallen trees and such. There may also be repairs to people’s homes that an extra pair of hands will be needed form: broken windows, holes in roofs, etc. Someone who wants to be helpful in these sorts of situations should be in possession of basic tools to help with debris clearing and simple repairs.
If power were out for an extended period of time and transportation was limited by flood and storm debris, acquiring food would be an issue for many people. Most people have just enough food in their homes for the week. Losing all the perishable food in their fridges would wipe out most people’s hearty food supplies. This would be worsened by grocery stores both not having power (therefore also being unable to keep many foods) and being inaccessible due to roads being blocked by debris. A warrior would be prudent enough to keep food stores to allow his or herself to get by in a food scarce situation as well as being able to supply emergency relief to neighbors and other community members. Many people are often not at all ready to deal with emergency situations of any kind, and they will be very grateful to those who are prepared and who are able to provide aid and leadership through the tough times.
Think about it. As martial artists, what is the simplest reason for our study of self-defense techniques? To be prepared for a situation where we might have to protect ourselves or others, right? Unless you live in theBronxor some other violent place, how often do we really need to defend ourselves? I know people in the martial arts who have never had to use their skills to defend themselves. Does that mean that their time and study in the martial arts was wasted? Of course it doesn’t. If they ever needed to use it, they were ready. Emergency preparedness is the same way; most of the time, you don’t need it, but during the times you do, it will make a big difference and will probably save your life or someone else’s.
I want you martial artist readers to all imagine the type of person you want to be as a martial artist, or at least what you would envision an ideal martial artist being like. Words like strong, insightful, heroic, virtuous, skilled, and others may come to mind. Can you imagine this ideal martial artist person being in a post-storm situation and being like, “I can kick and punch really well, how can I help?” or when called upon to help with reconstruction or food aid saying, “I’m just a martial artist – what do you want from me?” The idea is ridiculous. Any true martial artist would want to be among those who provide the greatest help. As martial artists, we are of course prepared for unexpected self-defense situations; we should be equally ready for unexpected emergency situations since these can be just as deadly and dire.