Friday, September 16, 2011

Violence, revisited

The psychological effects of the crime I committed have been varied and life-long.

The first impact was that of shock.  To be so violent was so alien to me; it was as if I found myself disassociated from myself.  Who was I?  This was followed by fear - the realisation that I had the capacity to kill and, worse, to do so out of an uncontrollable burst of overwhelming emotion.  I not only didn't know "who" I was, but was also faced with the fact that I could not control myself completely, that my emotions could overwhelm me.

These were hammer blows to my psyche, my core identity, and for the rest of my teenage years I focussed upon an inward journey to explore, understand, and control my feelings.  Externally, I was also given approval to learn two martial arts, shotokan karate and wing chun kung fu.  Such was my worry about accidentally causing serious harm in some unexpected fight that I wanted to learn the tools so that I had a far greater chance of only causing as little harm as possible, in a focussed and controlled way.

That said, I was far from being the best student and the internal journey of self-control always took priority.

Decades down the line in this journey and these, and other,  efforts to render myself non-violent suddenly came into a decidedly sharp focus.

About a month ago I found myself facing a guy who was angry, desperate and wielding a very lethal stabbing tool.  This was one of those dumb prison events, which actually had nothing to do with me.  The moment resolved itself with no harm done.

It shocked me.  It shocked me because as the events unfolded I realised that I have completely lost my "fight or flight" mechanism.  Here was a guy ready and able to stab me and I had no rush of adrenaline, no anxiety, no pupil dilation or any of the evolutionary physiological responses.  What I was doing was reacting with my brain; rapidly calculating every aspect of the situation from my head rather than my guts.

On one level this is obviously a Good Thing. Self control is the foundation of so much of life.  And yet, to have taken this to the extreme where I have suppressed an extremely beneficial biological response to danger may itself be dangerous.  After all, there are times - knife wielding nutters being one - when an instant and instinctive elbow to the throat may be more of a necessity than a whim.

Maybe it is time to re-open the dojo.


  1. Whilst I have never mastered any martial art, I have practiced a couple for some years. I always thought your reaction to a fight was exactly what was aimed at. Furthermore, the time spent in the dojo will have so familiarized you to violence that it will stop having the shock value, which I have also experienced, not with violence, but with being trapped underwater owing to my somewhat careless attitude to sailing.

  2. Fascinating blog post. Interesting to learn a bit more about your crime.


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