The Last Place Men Can Settle Things Like Men

In the middle of a dry, dusty desert in Nevada, I rode my bicycle down a street that wasn’t there a few weeks ago, and would be gone again in just a few days. C is a main street in Black Rock City, the Burning Man gathering that springs up in the alkali playa a few hours from Reno. At “Camp Settle This Like Men,” I parked my bike, donned a thick, stiff kimono and pants, and stepped onto the mats. I’d not brought my belt from home, so strapped on a loaner white belt, and invited a burly, bearded man with a huge smile and a brown belt to roll.

A few minutes later, we stopped for breath. “You’re a black belt aren’t you?” he demanded. “Yeah,” I said, smiling. “What gave it away?” Mike and I became friends, in life and on Facebook. We know a lot of the same people, it turned out. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) community is large and growing, but at higher ranks, it is still a close-knit, interconnected group. A year or so later, Mike described that chance meeting on Facebook, telling friends how we met. “David showed up without a belt, and tapped me out three times in about 5 minutes. Then he told me he was a black belt…I’d kinda figured that out at that point.”

Like a lot of the men who practice modern grappling and mixed martial arts, both Mike and I wear beards, and our ears look, well, our ears look like they need a little bit of ironing. When you’re fighting often, your ears take a beating. Rubbed against the mats, or gi, or against an opponent’s body, the delicate cartilage in your ears can separate, stretch, and then fill with interstitial fluid that hardens. The result is lumpy ears. They are a flag to other men, that those ears belong to someone who spends a lot of time on the mat.

Men used to take pride in fighting prowess. Being able to defend yourself and your loved ones was something to celebrate. It was part of your job as a man. Today, it’s a sign of toxic masculinity, something that we are supposed to want to give up.

Competitiveness, stoicism, dominance, and aggression, are characteristics identified as “traditional masculinity” in recent guidelines released by the American Psychological Association, elements that are deemed, “on the whole, harmful.” The day these guidelines were released, I watched men compete with each other, choke each other out, physically and aggressively, then walk off the mat and hug each other. I saw men offer compassion, connection, kindness, to the men they’d just physically attacked and been attacked by. Brotherhood was born from the very components we are told to abandon. 

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is criticized as a well of toxicity, filled with misogyny, “bro culture,” celebrating a violent hyper-masculinity. Across the world, there’s a “crisis of masculinity.” Fewer men enrolling in higher education. Blue collar jobs drying up. Countless men lost to suicide, depression, countless people killed by angry men with weapons. We’re told Trump was elected by angry, violent, racist men, desperate to cling to their dissipating power. I’m no fan of Trump, but do think that if he’s the result of our approach to fixing men, then the medicine isn’t working.

Men are told violence should be eschewed, as toxic masculine urges that should be eradicated from our planet. Men must get better at communicating our feelings, and talking things out, settling problems with words, rather than our fists. I agree—in part. I’m a psychologist after all, and a therapist. I talk to people. Most of my patients are men, struggling in life, dealing with depression, angst, and relationship problems. Many need remedial lessons simply in identifying the feelings that boil through them, that they’ve never been taught how to recognize.

Men in my office struggle with discussing feelings, and often with talking in general. Couples’ therapy is a place where females hold the upper ground, with a more solid foundation of communication and emotional expression. Typically, when I treat men, I offer an option early on, that we can explore complex, nuanced, existential questions, or implement a more active, structured, “do this” treatment approach. Not surprisingly, many men seize the more active treatment approach that focuses on doing, as opposed to talking. The talking usually happens, but later.

Training in MMA is very much a “do this” approach. But success isn’t quick. Acquiring a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu takes an average of ten years of dedicated training. MMA training doesn’t have formal ranks, but success requires extensive skill and training in multiple disciplines. The image of MMA fighters as thugs and street fighters is a far cry from the reality of men I see on the mats. These men have the equivalents of my doctorate.

Stoicism is denigrated as men’s resistance to showing emotions, but on the mat, stoicism simply means “not quitting.” In 2015, British MMA fighter Andy Cona won his first professional fight—after 21 straight losses. Three years before, Andy saidI will lose a thousand fights and then win one, but I am not quitting.” Crying out in pain during a match is the equivalent of tapping out. In the face of a stronger opponent, despite injuries, and even in pain, the adept competitor learns to school his face, suppressing any sign or sound of pain or weakness.

“I fit the jiu jitsu on myself,” said black belt Jean Jacques Machado, who was born with a birth defect that left one hand stunted to a thumb and little finger. Machado has countless medals and championships, but his dominance wasn’t towards other people, but in dominating the technique. Our society typically views disability as weakness. But on the mat, disabled men like Machado and myself, learn to take our differences and not simply overcome them, but capitalize on them. My lack of a left hand creates an opportunity, an opening, that most of my opponents are not prepared for. The domination we practice is over the urge to simply accept weakness. 

Actor Ed O’Neill holds a black belt, and entered training to learn to control and channel his youthful aggression. Competitors must be aggressive, in order to win. Aggressiveness is an essential psychological component in the ring, demonstrating one’s commitment. An aggressive attack is a man’s way of announcing his presence and his belief that this moment matters. But men who cannot control and manage their aggression, who cannot temper it and use it, lose quickly. Aggression is merely a tool, and successful fighters learn to use that tool, and sharpen it. It is the man who uses the aggression, not the other way around.

“If you want to be a lion, you must train with lions,” Carlson Gracie Jr. says, describing the intensely competitive environment on the mats. Men come to training to better themselves, to improve, learn, and prepare for the next match. If my opponent isn’t a lion, dedicated to the same level of personal improvement, then we both lose. No matter how many times you might tap that person out, if the competition doesn’t teach you something, you lose, and have wasted time. The competition that happens in MMA is not with our opponent, but with the forces which work and conspire to prevent us becoming better men.

Achieving victory over another man, defeating them, forcing them to submit—it’s not about saying “I’m better than you.” It’s saying “I’m better than I was yesterday.” It’s why almost every competition ends with a hug and a thank you. Because each gave the other something—the opportunity to learn, to progress and to become better. At “Camp Settle This Like Men,” and at MMA gyms around the world, black belt instructors lend their time and expertise to lead classes on kickboxing, jiu jitsu, boxing and self-defense. When we teach others our skills, we make them better, hone our own knowledge, and create stronger opponents, that we can measure ourselves against.

Losing is actually the most important experience in grappling. But no one talks about that. We focus on the winners, and condemn the competition as instilling hierarchy. But in a world where “everyone gets a trophy,” no one learns from their losses. When we lose, become dominated by a stronger, more skilled opponent, we learn the most important lesson that MMA has to give us: survival.

Mike Little, my friend from the camp has had to learn how to survive, battling depression and suicide. “When I was on the verge of taking my life, my wife, family and BJJ saved me. BJJ teaches you to not panic, but most important, never give up. How many times has someone been winning in a match by a lot of points, to then get submitted last second? I applied that mindset to my life—to never give up, and it saved me.”

Those moments of vulnerability are the things that drive men forward. Not to create a world where they can never be weak again, but to create a self who can survive those experiences. Actor Jonah Hill recently started training and said: “At 35, I try and get over the stuff that made me feel weak and insecure as a teenager. It’s just wasted time and lessons you’ll never learn. Trying to let go of that. Nothing more humbling than getting your ass kicked by a 12-year-old your first week. Got my first stripe today. I know it sounds corny but it’s pretty dope to jump in and do stuff you’d never think you’d be able to do.”

Modern martial arts training isn’t about invulnerability. Ed O’Neill says that training with the idea you’ll be able to beat up 10 men at once is a fantasy. “But,” he says, if faced with that experience after his years of training, “I could survive.”

I’m incredibly lucky, to train martial arts with not just excellent men and women, dedicated to improving themselves, but with rock stars of MMA from around the world. On a regular basis, I share the mat with Holly Holm, Jon Jones, Cowboy Cerrone, Diego Sanchez, Roman Dolidze, and countless other professional champion fighters. And they are the most humble, generous and eager-to-learn people I’ve ever grappled with. They’ve made competition, dominance and aggression a healthy part of their way of life, embraced them as ways to make themselves better.

That’s what manhood is about. It’s not about someone else telling you what it takes to be a man, but about learning to listen to yourself, and gaining the strength to stand up for yourself in the face of opposition. Sadly, that’s what’s lost these days. The world needs fighters, but right now doesn’t seem all that interested in providing them. That’s why those of us who feel that need and desire to challenge ourselves, to fight to become better, find a home with our brothers on the mat. When we settle things like men, it gives us all the opportunity to be better men.

David Ley is a clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of several books and academic publications on sexuality and psychology. Follow him on Twitter @drdavidley.


  1. Whyaxye says

    To “settle things like men” originally meant that when disagreements arose (typically at work, in the military, in the neighbourhood, etc.) then two men would be encouraged to physically fight in order to settle that disagreement. It was considered to be better than allowing grudges to fester, and “cleaner” than talking things out or negotiating, even if the participants had the ability to do that.

    What the article describes is something different. The men are seeking out combat with strangers they don’t disagree with in order, presumably, to feel better about themselves. The only thing that is being “settled” is an existing sense of unease.

    • Ian says

      Whyaxe, yes the title of the article is misleading but if the message you took from it is it’s all about settling some unease then it may be worth reading again. Where I train there’s a great camaraderie and respect for those you train with and fight against. We have about a 30% female membership so in my view it’s not just about or just for men. At the end of a good roll or bout no matter if you win or loose, get bruised or come out clean there is no animosity just respect for your opponent and a lot of sweat. I’m 60 this year and train in Krav Maga and a little BJJ and Jujitsu and for me it stops me thinking about my research and allows me to completely focus on something that’s just physical and technical. The bonus, apart from fitness and refining my skills, is I sometimes get my best ideas when getting tied in knots.

      • Whyaxye says

        I do think that it is about settling some unease, but only in the sense that I think that alleviating unease is the prime motivator for whatever we undertake. We do things because we feel we lack something, or because we want to get rid of something unpleasant that bothers us. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. My point is that the motivation that is involved here is different in kind from the motivation that drove men to fight in the days when the phrase was coined. That’s an interesting point about how society and people have changed. I’m glad you enjoy your training and fighting – long may it continue!

    • david of Kirkland says

      So being manly means joining a club and play fighting?

      • Why yes, David, if that’s what it takes, that’s what being manly is. I’ve never felt a need to join club and play fight, but I’ve nothing but respect for those that do.

      • @david of Kirkland

        “So being manly means joining a club and play fighting?”

        Does it have to be to the death to be real to you?

      • Tim Lewis says

        In part, yes. If you’re curious as to how much the game is tipped between ‘play’ and ‘fighting’, I’d be happy to provide a demonstration.

      • Of course not, David. Being manly is more about being deliberately obtuse in a comment to get a rise out of, what you might believe is a crowd of type A men who “play fight”.
        Being able to problem solve, stay calm, and think lineally during an intense situation because you train for it is just out right silly, isn’t it? Who would want the ability to defend their spouse, family or themselves?

        You’ve got the recipe my fierce friend, in any “real fight”, you could just leave a snarky comment. Yes, please do that….

    • Chris says

      No one who seriously practices any martial art or combat sport does it to “feel better about themselves”. They may do it to prove something to themselves, or even to prove something to others. But any true student practices their craft in order to challenge themselves, learn new things and get better.

      Combat sports are paradoxical in that people gain respect for one another through a sense of humility, as a result of fearlessly and sometimes ruthlessly confronting their opponent. Egos dont last long in a gym.

      Any fighter who tells you they are not terrified before a match is lying. Disregarding that fear, pulling the trigger, and coming out on the other side is a transformative experience which fosters a deep sense of mutual respect between competitors.This is not a self-fulfilling act.

      • Whyaxye says

        “No one who seriously practices any martial art or combat sport does it to “feel better about themselves”. They may do it to prove something to themselves, or even to prove something to others. But any true student practices their craft in order to challenge themselves, learn new things and get better”

        Yes, that’s right. Proving something to oneself, proving something to others, challenging oneself, learning new things, and getting better are all motivated by wanting to feel better about oneself.

    • LebronJamesHardenxChrisPaulGeorge says

      I mean there are other sports that are extremely physical and foster healthy competition between men that don’t run the very real risk of serious bodily harm – most notably that of the neurological variety. I know BJJ is not easy but neither is a full court one on one to 21 with no 2’s at 6am. I’m assuming BJJ is a last resort for men who were never good at team sports, have bad rapport with women, and sketchy family histories with parents who never hugged them and instilled in them very wise advice on how to avoid fights altogether like I don’t know, being street smart and understanding how to interpret a potentially explosive situation before it ignites. Additionally, there’s also this breed of men who don’t hail from poverty and violent, crime-ridden locales where learning to fight is necessary for survival, these types seek out things like BJJ out of this Nitzschean need for “danger”, which in itself is such an adolescent desire that I almost feel second-hand embarrassment for those who harbor it. Simply put, there are myriad ways to put yourself in precarious positions that get the adrenaline pumping without the very real prospect of irreversibly damaging your spine or rupturing a pec, like free climbing or wild swimming, which are only as dangerous as your willing to make them, whereas with MMA and fighting in general, the heightened danger is intrinsic. I myself am a pretty socially active married man in my early 30’s who literally can’t remember the last time the prospect of a fight arose in my adult life. Remember, if you’re walking around like a hammer you’re going to find a nail. This idea in 2019, while living in NYC of all places, that the specter of violence is so palpable so as to necessitate me risking serious head/bodily injury in order to train consistently enough to prevent it is ludicrous. I’ll stick to driving against two bigs when I know I shouldn’t as a way for me to quiet the ape that still lurks in lesser evolved portions of my brain. PS after you tell me that I’ll never know when that one in a million chance of a real world fight will be drawn, I can confidently say that upon a thorough cost-benefit analysis – I’ll happily take my chances.

  2. I’ve learned more about myself on the mat than in any other medium. For all the self reflection, therapy, diary writing, CBT, talking with friends or other ways of bringing about contemplation in my life, pitting myself against another man and having the humbling experience of knowing I know nothing, but having that same man turn to me and teach me how counter what he just did is a kind of bond difficult to find anywhere else.

    Thanking someone for hurting you, tapping you out or just plain dominating you sounds counter intuitive, but that’s often when we learn the most.

    • david of Kirkland says

      How does learning to grapple (fake fight) cause you to learn about yourself? What exactly did you learn about yourself other than some fake fighting tips? That physical strength is no longer a key marker? That hand-fighting is passe?

      • Ted Talks says

        Dave, grappling (the fake fighting that the US and practically every other major military has adopted into their combative programs, strange huh?) teaches a person:
        1) what level of shape they are in
        2) 150 ways to choke or destroy the joints of your opponent, should that day come
        3) how to lose gracefully

        among other things

        You could have just went to any BJJ gym and took a free class to find out for yourself exactly what grappling has to offer, instead of trying to be cute on the internet.

        • Declan Gernon says

          @David. If you think BJJ is fake fighting, go to your nearest gym sometime for a roll. You’re in for a shock.

      • @dave It’s “fake” fighting in that you learn how to throw your opponent to the ground, control, strangle, or break a limb/joint all while limiting their ability to do damage to you regardless of their size.

        Grappling is definitively a dominant part of fighting.

        UFC heavyweight champ. Dan Cormier. Grappler.

        UFC welterweight champion kamara usman. Grappler.

        UFC lightweight champion. Kabib Nurmagemadov. Grappler.

        UFC flyweight champion. Henry cejudo. Grappler.

        Am I missing any?

        • Ted Talks says

          I second that Ike, except I would add that any person who wants to be even a somewhat serious at MMA will have to study grappling. The days of someone thinking they can get by with just striking died around 1993.

          • That striking only strategy was murdered by a 180lb ambassador of bjj…Royce, who in the scheme of the Gracie family, wasn’t the most dominant by a long shot.

        • TarsTarkas says

          You don’t even need to look at MMA. Look at all the various levels of Greco, Freestyle, and Federation-style wrestling, from pee-wee up to Worlds. It’s learning to compete, training hard, learning how to hone your will to make your weak body do your bidding. And many may times learn that life is unfair, you don’t always win (often don’t win very much if at all) and learning how to deal with defeat in a manner that doesn’t break your spirit and allows you to live life with less fear.

        • I think Tank Abbott once said “All fights end up on the ground”.

          Anyone that has participated in any combat sport knows there is as much admiration as there is animosity. Only when you’ve been punched in the face, knocked out, pinned or forced to tap can you appreciate doing it to someone else.

          @dave it’s only as play/fake fighting as you want it to be. Most gyms keep it civil but there are many organizations that’ll gladly give you the beating of your life if you’re game.
          If not we don’t judge. You do you and let us be as we are, regardless of our motivations and what we get out of it.

      • Max says

        If the establishment is professional, which many aren’t, what it will instill in you first is discipline and respect.

      • Tim Lewis says

        Even though you’re being a douche, I’ll answer your questions.

        1. It gives you perspective. You understand you’re not near the bad-ass you think you are.

        2. Same as above. You asked the same question twice.

        3. Physical strength is still very important, but it’s not everything.

        4. Hand-fighting is an essential part of BJJ.

        I’m not going to try to justify BJJ to you. Come TRY it. If you’re able to dominate someone your size who has trained for more than 6 months, you should be pleased, but that is an unlikely scenario.

      • Charlie says

        A round house kick to the spleen which drops one to ones knees; a punch to the solar plexus which paralyses one; a punch to just above the knee which paralyses the leg and a throw on to one’s back which stun’s one. Learn to carry on when one is hurt.

        If one cannot take a blow in the gym and carry on fighting then one will not be able to take a punch in the head in a street fight or a cut from a knife or bottle. Good street fighters have fast reflexes, agility and the ability to carry on fighting after receiving heavy blows. Someone who cannot cope with the training in a gym is unlikely to survive a street fight.

        Read about W E Fairbairn who trained in boxing, bayonet fighting, wrestling, ju jitsu and wing chun and developed close quarter combat.

  3. Nick Podmore says

    The feminazis and leftist mob would have us believe that the only way is the feminine way and yet….and yet…..hypergamy and women CONSTANTLY going on about how THEY want men who can provide and protect. The expectation we will buy stuff and pay for stuff and look after children. Women stand looking at the buffet of masculinity and pick and choose only those characteristics that they feel benefit them without any embarrassment at their hypocrisy. We all know that women can be mean, spiteful, manipulative and cunning and physically violent, safe in the knowledge that they can play the victim card while a man would simply be locked up. Personally I would rather have someone punch me in the face than have some angry viper of a vindictive woman stalking me and making up lies then demand that we #believallwomen. I work in an industry 90% female and frankly, having spent 30 years in business it is about the most toxic and unproductive soup you could ever fall into. Ultimately, when the barbarians are at the gates, and as history shows, they will come, then all the “femininity” in the world will not save them, it will, as always fall to the men to protect and serve and throw away their lives without thought on the battlefield. It is the supreme privileged comfort of western woman that allow them to wallow in this fantasy world of dreams. Go and live in Africa or Asia or Latam…woman there frankly have no time for this nonsense. I notice with amusement that you never ever hear feminists demanding that every industry is 50/50 male female, that prison sentences should be the same, that custody and visitation should be 50/50. Modern day feminists have no interest in equality only in privilege.

  4. Man says

    > I work in an industry 90% female and frankly, having spent 30 years in business it is about the most toxic and unproductive soup you could ever fall into.
    Sorry about that. I’m also in a traditionally female industry, but fortunately there’s decent male representation (about 70:30) and we all share a sense of purpose. It doesn’t degenerate into what I can only imagine a 90% female workplace would be.

    But when I’m in a room full of women and talking about how primal it felt on a recent vacation to explore a beach so ancient that the rocks hadn’t even become sand yet, they just don’t get it. Their idea of a vacation was to lie in the sand and relax.

    Never be ashamed of your sex or let the frivolous make you feel so yourself. I believe this is what the manosphere calls “amused mastery.”

  5. Beautiful stuff. I love watching boys at play or men at work. I don’t know a single (straight) woman who doesn’t. It’s our differences that bring us together, yin and yang.

    Thanks for writing.

  6. Andrew says

    Good article. Perhaps many feminists so dislike structured physical masculinity such as sports, BJJ or other martial arts precisely because it strengthens brotherhood. And perhaps also because it may provoke female desire and rivalry, which can be uncomfortable for the sisterhood.

  7. Aylwin says

    …it’s not about saying “I’m better than you.” It’s saying “I’m better than I was yesterday”. By all means enjoy the sport, but stop over dressing it. I don’t think you, a psychotherapist, should be denying the egotistical part – this strikes me as insightless and contrived. You’ve already acknowledge the place of competion, but to say the competion is against yourself is ridiculous (though a noble sentiment/ambition)

    Sport plays on our base emotions, but can help turn them to something more noble, which is perhaps what you’re trying to get at. The fighty sports are the least attractive, and I would suggest there are better sports for channelling our base instincts into something more cultured, and to spend our physical energy (rugby, for example, has speed, grace, power, beautiful interplay of teamwork). But I guess a bit of fighty is appropriate for some folk. But there really is something to the idea that we do want to channel our worst competitive instincts into something better than “settling differences like men”, and to learn to settle differences like insightful, evolved, gentlemen who can not let our fighty instincts get the better of our more considered reflections. It’s a good thing that sports are the last places where “differences can be settled like men”, and they can be training grounds for better behaviour. The sight of a rugby team employing their whole physical capability against opposition, whilst respecting the rules, referees, and opponents, is awesome. The sight of a football (actual football, not American) team cheating their way to victory, pretending to be injured, arguing with referees etc is sickening. What needs recognising is that poisonous competitiveness gets everywhere and pollutes debate. It IS toxic (and it is, perhaps, typically male). But so is SJW “warrioring”.

    • @aylwin. At a bjj gym (at least mine) there are various belt levels all training together. There’s only one guy who could really flex his muscles as the top dog, he’s the owner and head instructor, and he doesn’t/wouldn’t. Everyone else is looking up at someone who is better who they can learn from.

      If you see your training solely as a competition, you’re missing the point of training. The OP points out that “losing” getting tapped or choked, is where a lot of the learning happens and that’s been true in my experience.

      As for a bunch of chubby Aussie wimps stumbling around at being “real” football players…let’s examine the crossover from rugby to football…oh yeah, there is none because they couldn’t cut it as athletes in a real sport.

      • Aylwin says

        “If you see your training solely as a competition… “, erm, no. Did you read my comment?

    • Richard Di Lorenzo says

      Have you ever actually played on a team? I played competitive basketball through college and then into my early 50’s as the oldest guy on the court in many cases. It was a wonderful experience. The level of camaraderie and teamwork and yes, competition, was great. When playing against a notably better opponent it most often brought out the best in everyone. That is what is at the heart of it all, bringing out the best we have to offer both on the physical and the mental level of commitment, personal determination, spontaneity, and pure physical pleasure. I suggest you watch the old movie “Chariots of Fire.” In my life were there some people who were out to injure others and to dominate in ways outside the bounds of the rules? Occasionally, but not often. That is the exception not the rule. And most often it was self governing. Everyone knew when someone was going outside of the bounds. I played in literally hundreds of “pickup” basketball games over the many years for instance, and mostly mixed race with the majority being black. It was a place where almost exclusively a man’s race became lost and the cooperation and team work was all as you tried to stay on the court by beating the other team. I miss it to this day and only stopped when the danger of physical injury due to age became too heightened.

      • Aylwin says

        Yes. Lots of rugby. Much football. And I’ve watched Chariots of fire. I think you’re missing my point somewhat (in fact, making some of my point … thanks)

    • seth collins says

      “Football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”

      you sort of touch on this idea: the more rough and tumble the sport, the more gentlemanly they players. the ultimate rough sport is pugilism itself.

  8. Anonymous says

    Good article – but what is this ?

    ” We’re told Trump was elected by angry, violent, racist men, desperate to cling to their dissipating power. I’m no fan of Trump, but do think that if he’s the result of our approach to fixing men, then the medicine isn’t working.”

    The detour into Trump-bashing was a gratuitous non-sequitur.

    No need to discuss Trump in order to deal with the issue of “fixing men” or toxic masculinity.

    • Man says

      > The detour into Trump-bashing was a gratuitous non-sequitur.
      I can’t really blame the author, because everyone with a brain knows that Trump was the biggest disaster besides Clinton in the 2016 election, but I agree that politics shouldn’t mar an otherwise good account of the masculine ideal.

      “The future is female,” so them them stew in their own shit and become corrupted by their own petty, power-grubbing miasma. I’d rather eat sauerkraut and do pushups than squabble about this politics trash with a bunch of pseudo-masculine females.

      The propaganda tells them to sacrifice their biologically inherent nature, for what? To be in unhappily in debt, with a chip on their shoulder, assuming responsibilities they don’t want that don’t become them, to fight for the “privilege” of wasting 30 years in a cubicle?

      • TarsTarkas says

        Sorry, I have a brain, and Her Odiousness would have been a far greater disaster not only to this country but to the world (and if you call what’s happening under Trump a disaster you need to look beyond the blather and boorishness and look at what’s actually being accomplished).

        • Man says

          I fail to see how electing a diehard Zionist is anything less than a disaster. It’s not only Trump (remember, he’s a symptom and not a cause), and Clinton is implicated in Jewish human rights violations in Africa by pushing for mass circumcision there.

          The fact is, the election was stolen from the American people. We didn’t even get a chance to vote for a candidate. The “special interests” installed puppets in each major spot, precluding any chance for American citizens to elect a representative of their interests.

          If you need evidence of this, consider how Congress could only agree, with extremely suspicious unanimity and lack of debate, to gift Israel $38 billion (with a “b”) before rendering itself inert for over a month.

      • Brent says

        You forgot Obama in your list of bad presidents.

      • Craig WIllms says

        Every article on this site must do a side swipe at Trump, it a pre-requisite. The man could cure cancer and he’d still be a disaster in their eyes(and yours apparently). Mr. Ley fulfilled his Trump swipe requirement. Moving on.

        • Man says

          Who in their right mind would want to cure cancer? It’s not even possible, being a side-effect of humanity’s destruction of the natural substrate. Cancer will eventually cure the hubris of the species by making it extinct, and I’m fine with that.

          • Craig WIllms says


            So the moniker Man is a misnomer… Anti-Man would be more accurate. I feel sorry for you.

        • Aaron Garrad says

          Yep, if trump developed a cure for cancer, front page news would be about all the Oncologists he’d put out of work.

    • Tim Lewis says

      I didn’t take the Trump related paragraph as Trump-bashing. He was actually being critical of the SJW portion of the culture to which he believes Trump was the response. This is why he qualified the statement with, “I’m no fan of Trump, but… .”

  9. Kim says

    MMA sounds ok, except for the brain damage e.g. “Choking each other out.” That doesn’t sound like much fun. I’d sooner climb a mountain, or bicycle across Canada, or even eat a bagel, but to each his own.

    • Rick says

      @Kim You “tap out” before suffering injury. The point is to help each other learn and get better, not damage one another.

      • Andy Kaufmann says

        Are you trying to say that people don’t get hurt when they’re fighting one another with the expressed goal of hurting each other? Why would one need to tap out if there was no risk of injury? Why don’t you ask Tamika Brents or Fallon Fox about suffering injury during hand-to-hand combat?

        • Only people who don’t know their own bodies don’t recognize survivable pain from devastating injury. It’s something you get better at. You improve your ability not only to endure pain but understand it. If you have a philosophical opposition to anti-fragility then that’s one thing, understandable but wrong. The human body gets better by stressing it, any weightlifter immunologist knows this.

        • Tim Lewis says

          There’s a significant difference between competing professionally or recreationally.

          If your only knowledge of fighting is Tamika & Fallon, then you are quite uninformed.

    • UJN says

      There’s an increasing influx of women into MMA. I’d be interested in anecdotes about how it’s affected the MMA world (if at all).

      I’m a fan of the sports (and train boxing on the side) and I watch fights with guy friends. We don’t care if it’s guys fighting or women fighting as long as the fight is good.

  10. sumpin says

    It’s true, in my experience, that as a male there is an essential need to be able to stand firm in the face of physical challenge. Winning is preferable, but there is an inner peace even when losing that you faced the challenge and did not back down in cowardice. This goes very deep, and I’d guess that most men these days have no idea what they are missing psychologically by never having been in any such situation.

  11. Andy Kaufmann says

    In the very near future, a more appropriate title would be “The first place where women who wish they were men can (try to) settle things like men (who are actual men).

  12. Lightning Rose says

    The reason martial arts take us places of great insight is because they work with the “reptilian” brain. When someone is choking you out or throwing you through the air, CBT and rationalizing ain’t gonna cut it. The intersection between technique and physics is endlessly fascinating and the greatest equalizer, as it doesn’t care whether you are a 12 year old boy, a 60 year old “macho” man, or a 5 foot tall woman. Martial arts teach humility, patience, and persistence. “Defeat today the self of yesterday.”

    Unfortunately, there are cultural forces afoot today who would like to make EVERYONE weak, docile and easily led. These forces emanate from academia, but are now infesting corporate workplaces and g’ment. policy. They elevate dependency, deviance and mental illness into new cosseted classes where weakness and lack of character are to be embraced. Martial culture is one strong antidote to that cultural stream.

    Much is made in the comments section here about “feminists.” Might I remind you that most women who function comfortably in society don’t see themselves as “feminists” at all, and think of those types as maladjusted, shrill harridans with dysfunctional lives who smell like pee? Please do not give their ideas any more cultural significance or mainstream traction than they can attract by themselves; if you do, you’re marching in the Crazy Column alongside them. Dismiss their nonsense outright, or better yet, just plain ignore them. The dojo’s a good place to do it.

    • Jujucat says

      @Lightning Rose I have read several of your comments and have agreed with them all. Thank you for posting.

    • Charlie says

      Excellent comments. Look at the 1930s. Poverty in the areas of heavy industry yet little violence from knives, guns and gangs: it was seen to be cowardly to use a weapon. Men ever fought outside a pub but never where women were present. Women could work in rough pubs without being assaulted and manywere run by them.

      Most middle class left wingers are physically puny and know they can only take control if they turn most men into a docile easily led version of themselves. The Cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School and Gramsci were honest about their intentions.

      Why is it that feminists do not have as role models strong women – Elizabeth The First, Florence Nightingale, the women of the SOE, Golda Meir and M Thatcher ?

  13. Chad Jessup says

    Growing up in the fifties in a one-room, grades 1-8 school, we boys settled our differences with our fists, and today we are all still good friends. Today’s protocol requiring students to request authorities to solve “problems”, I believe, only leads to very violent outcomes later in life due to the dis-empowering aspect of that approach.

    • Max says

      Yet a considerable number of those student wind up dead due to the fact that the physical altercation DIDN’T solve the problem. This isn’t the 1950’s and taking the boys out back to “settle it like men” is as mature and effective as throwing your child into the lake in an effort to teach them to swim.

        • Max says

          You only have to look at firearms-related deaths within demographics of society. A mere slight, followed by a confrontation, concluded by someone shooting another because they’ve been “demoted” in status.

          Perhaps an adult conversation might quell some of this?

  14. sumpin says

    Andy, you don’t get it at all. The express goal is domination rather than to inflict serious injury on an opponent, if that’s what you mean by “hurt”. Tapping out is submission, acknowledging that if the situation was serious and not a controlled competition, the one being dominated would be in mortal danger. Tapping out ends the competition before any life threatening injury should occur.

    That being said, there are risks in the competition, but that could be said about many other competitions.

  15. D.B. Cooper says

    I agree with much of what the author (Ley) says. As someone who has trained both BJJ (purple belt) and boxing for the last 8 years, I can say without reservation, I’ve never found a more honest experience in any other domain of life – and, yes, I have the deformed cauliflower ears to prove it.

    For the uninitiated, it may seem a sick sort of masochism to count being choked or punched in the face as the most honest experience of one’s life, and as strange as that may sound, there is something uniquely humbling about an experience that strips away the pretenses of life. In my estimation, there is nothing more true than the misery one feels from exposing one’s own vulnerabilities.

    I have lost count the times, I’ve witness grown men – who were otherwise thought to be tough or thought of themselves as being tough – walk off the mat and never return after being properly exposed to a reality absent of all ostentation. The gentle art – as my fellow BJJ practitioners like to call it – has a remarkable way of unmasking one’s egotism. I think, more than anything, this is a function of ‘combat sports’ more generally. In this arena, there’s nowhere to hide, there’s no excuses to make, it just is as they say. Reality doesn’t lend itself to sophistry. This is what I mean by an honest experience. It is this, that I most appreciate.

    Lastly, to the author’s point, there’s a lot of truth to the idea that losing is the most important experience in grappling (and boxing). This may sound counter-intuitive, or even cliché to the skeptic, but I firmly believe that you cannot be a man (or person) of any depth, unless you have faced adversity, suffered, failed and gotten back up repeatedly. As I’ve said, exposing your vulnerabilities in an honest and forthright manner is a uniquely humbling experience. Maybe it’s sexist to say, but I learned more about myself from losing to a female 50 lbs. my junior some 8-years ago, than any particular man I’ve beat since – and that’s not to suggest I haven’t taken plenty of beatings from men as well. Anyone who’s been around BJJ long enough will tell you this is true.

    • derek says

      Interesting. I had a discussion this week with an apprentice that I’m training that the most valuable thing he can know is the limits of his knowledge, because there isn’t any faking it in what we do.

      I suppose in the ring the same thing happens. You can’t fake it, you are forced to recognize your limits, weaknesses. That is profoundly healthy, especially if there is a culture of improvement. This is the way forward, train this way, learn this technique.

      And physical exertion is a vital part of the process. I read that when we walk our brains change state where we are more open to learning. I find walking in the mountains solves dilemmas very effectively. The hard physical exertion clears the mind of extraneous details and our minds can then sort out important things.

      There are few places where we find ourselves at the limit of our skill or ability. It is healthy to find somewhere like that whatever it is.

      • D.B. Cooper says


        I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s better to know who you really are, than to pretend to be something you’re not, or worse, to actually believe you’re something that you’re not. Of course, it should also be said, that most people (myself included) will never find their own limits; whether because we’re simply too lazy or are unwilling to press ourselves that far. I’ll give you kind of a silly example of what I mean, but I think it applies nonetheless.

        One summer, in my early 20’s, myself and about 10 other cocksure young men of a similar age had the privilege of joining a senior chief navy seal for a 3-day-a-week workout routine. (Btw, one of the nicest, most unpretentious, down to earth people I’ve ever met still to this day). Anyway, the workouts were always ridiculously tough, but somewhat manageable if you were already in good shape. However, on Fridays the senior chief had us do something he called a ‘drop-run’. Basically you run for a mile, do some up-downs, jump in the water, get out and then run back the opposite way for a mile, and then repeat.

        The basic premise of this ‘drop-run’ was that it didn’t end until everyone had quit. Now, you could quit whenever you wanted to, but it didn’t end until everyone had quit and the last man was the winner. To call this toxic masculinity doesn’t even begin to describe the toxicity of what was going on here. To be sure, this may sound like a fun “challenge” between you and your buddies, until you realize that the senior chief navy seal included himself in the challenge.

        Needless to say, one way to find out Who you are and Who you are not is to become involved in a ‘last man standing’ exercise with a man who, for all intents and purpose, is willing to die rather than quit. It’s psychologically debilitating, I can assure you. The short story is, not all men have the same limits, and none of us 20 somethings were willing to die.

    • david ley says

      A 90lb female went knee on belly on me a few years ago, when i was recovering from torn cartilage in rib cage. I nearly burst out in tears. worst pain I’ve ever had on the mat. it’s not size, or anything else, but how and where you use it.

      • D.B. Cooper says

        @David Ley

        I feel your pain. There was a point in my life where, for about a year, I had recurring nightmares involving ‘knee on belly’ (their knee, my belly). I hate to monopolize this discussion with BJJ jargon, but as you aptly point out, you can’t really appreciate the amount of pressure a skilled BJJ practitioner can apply without having experienced it firsthand. The first time I rolled, I remember thinking how insanely heavy this 150 lbs. guy felt, despite me being closer to 200 lbs at the time. By the end of that first night of class, I knew two things for sure: One, jiu jitsu was something closer to black magic or a superpower or both, than it was martial arts. Two, I had to learn it.

    • G-Man says

      It has been noted over the years that the true mark of a man is how he behaves when things don’t go his way or when he thinks no one is looking…

  16. E. Olson says

    The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

  17. Bab says

    I haven’t fought since high school, but in high school I fought a fair bit. Mostly because I had to, and never because I wanted to. I have to say, not once after I finished fighting someone did we shake hands or collapse blubbering in each other’s arms. Instead, the bad blood persisted and/or worsened after the fight, the result was very often disputed, particularly as teachers had a habit of intervening, and if I saw someone with whom I traded blows on the street today, we would probably exchange at least words if not something worse.

    I haven’t had to fight anyone since, I suppose its because I went onto university and then onto professional life, and in retrospect, the sorts of people with whom you tend to have those sorts of problems tend to go to neither of those places. I’ve known a couple of people who enjoy getting into fights, who don’t regard it as a successful night out unless they get into one, and to be honest these people tend to be a misery and a trial to their friends and family, although they do seem to do well with a certain category of women, the type we used to describe as “broken birds”.

    I can recognise that play-fighting can have therapeutic consequences – as Nietzsche said, “in times of peace, a warlike man turns upon himself”. It doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. But for people who struggle to summon any other kind of self-worth, I can see how it would be useful.

    • sumpin says

      Bab, you were obviously fighting enemies. That’s an entirely different dynamic.

      • Bab says

        I think the people one fights ought to be enemies, it seems pretty pointless otherwise.

    • Tim Lewis says

      Bab, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Just because one trains in a warlike manner does not make them a warlike man. In fact, the opposite is more likely the case. When you actually understand what a real fight feels like, you’re less likely to want to be involved in one.

  18. Pingback: Linkage | Tanndera

  19. Peter T. says

    If you think this article has any value other than as an infomercial for the next round of deluded, malleable suckers your sadly mistaken. How did this shallow piece of junk sneak past the editors?

      • Peter T. says

        Morgan Foster

        Next, I suppose you’d tell me I’m an angry white man so me my opinion doesn’t matter. Sorry, but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    • Bob says

      Its called free speech. We dont have to agree with all or part of what is said, but I will use physical force to defend his right to say what he bloody well wants. Write your own article and I will defend your right to say that too.

  20. Max says

    I can’t think of a 100% respectable mixed martial artist since George St. Pierre. The sport relishes in a level of immaturity and lack-of-sportsmanship. The UFC is the Mike Tyson of combat sports.

    • D.B. Cooper says


      Fair enough. I would actually agree with your assessment, although in its current state, the UFC reminds me of something closer to the WWE than anything else. Having said that, it is a fallacy of composition to infer that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. That is, simply because the martial artists in the UFC are a collection of misfits, one should not infer that this is true for everyone who trains martial artists.

      • Max says

        Your WWE comparison has some validity.

        That’s true, however if the entity doesn’t maintain a high standard and elevate those who exemplify that high standard then the entity is a problem and, so long at it exists, proliferates that negativity. Those admirable practitioners that find their way into that entity are welcome changes to the orthodoxy.

        I have no doubt that admirable, professional, sportsmanlike teachers exist, I have trained under one, however their positive contributions are greatly overshadowed by the temptation of others to accommodate those with the attitudes and dispositions, learnt from the personalities of MMA venues, that are counter to the traditional principles of martial arts.

    • Sven says

      I dunno man Robert Whittaker is a pretty class act as a champion. But then again you don’t hear much about him because he isn’t out causing controversies that the UFC can use for marketing purposes. But that’s on the organisation and not the fighter.

      • Max says


        He hasn’t seemed to fight very much, some of perhaps being to his proneness to injury. The last fight I saw him in was his win over Yoel Romero.

        I might agree with it being on the organization however the organization doesn’t encourage or mandate it, the fighters perpetrate it and the organization exploits it to hype fights. The problem is that those attitudes, amplified by organizations such as the UFC, not only encourage that attitude in other fighters but also create an image of the sport as one that not only values that attitude but passively requires it if an individual is going to become successful.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      GSP sucks, unless you want to watch a guy run out the clock for 15 minutes and never finish anybody.

      You obviously haven’t watched UFC very much. And Mike Tyson was a dominant, historically significant fighter, so I have no idea how your analogy makes sense.

      • Max says

        I don’t know how long you’ve been watching MMA but I’ve seen GSP knock out and submit opponents plenty. If you’re used to watching Chuck Liddell and fighters the likes of, then sure, GSP isn’t likely going to be your cup of tea. I prefer smart fighters over brawlers or those from Greg Jackson’s School of Lay and Pray.

        Tyson wasn’t a boxer, he was a knockout artist, which is why Lennox Lewis made easy work of him. And my analogy was in reference to Tyson’s notoriously loud, vulgar, illiterate, and unintelligible mouth.

  21. Chuck Bergee says

    I think martial arts programs in general are great for lots of reasons, but combat isn’t a great way of settling things. Real men settle things by talking.

  22. Into the fray…..
    BJJ….I’m not a practitioner, and, I have a deep respect for the practice and the folks that dedicate themselves to BJJ. Of course, there exists, I’m sure, at least some bad BJJ dojos….where the beautiful positive aspects of BJJ as outlined by the author and some of the commenters are in the minority. Now, I’m going with the idea that most of the folks involved in BJJ are respectable. I trained Tae Kwan Do for 4 yrs, not a long time yet long enough to thoroughly understand what an awesome undertaking it is to show up, work/train hard, and participate in such an uplifting activity. TKD greatly enhanced and improved my life. As I’m sure that the majority of martial arts can do as well. The article is about BJJ, so lets honor this amazing activity. Lets celebrate its potential to enlighten, strengthen, and provide a community infused with camaraderie.

    And for those who dont partake of BJJ, or martial art training I hope for you to find in life a practice that can enrich your life, that you can dedicate yourself to, that brings positive meaning to you.

    I race motorcycles, off-road. For me it is what I most look forward to. Absolutely every aspect of this sport has meaning to me and truly uplifts my soul. The community of people who participate in moto are some of the finest folks I have ever associated with. The passion runs deep.

    Now, I believe that there exists many pursuits in life that can offer to us what BJJ does, or TKD, or moto racing. Surround yourself with people who are passionate and are driven to achieve and excel. It could be physical or mental or both. Life is short.

    And I’ll finish with that I’m just a normal dude, nothing special here, just trying to experience life the best I can, have some fun, and learn.

    Watching Royce Gracie back in the day, now that was just an awesome sight. UFC/MMA gladiator fighting these days does not hold much interest for me, unfortunately most of what I’m seeing has the taint of hyper commercialization and too much emphasis towards entertaining the spectator

  23. Lethal pacifist says

    Combat sports? My gawd. What drivel! There are few rules in this world:
    Don’t fight unless attacked.
    Don’t kill over something you are not willing to die over.
    Every real world fight should end in the death of the instigator.
    These are ego inflating sports for those with juvenile ideas of p”manhood”.
    The mere contemplation of the natural world will tell one everything he needs to know about his real situation and humility.
    Hiking, birdwatching, botany are better paths to this type of enlightenment. Just behold that Junco that sleeps out in that -20f night.
    This looks to be a waste of time. For those of us who live in mean cities, there is work in Systeme or Krav Maga. If one is justified “rolling” or punching in the real world, it is justified to use the technical means to settle the issue. Defensive hold breaks and moves are learned simply to free one long enough to deploy the weapon. Those are helpful, but they are not a game or a sport. One knows it is the 3, 3, 7 rule. Three seconds, three shots, 7 yards. One trains accordingly.
    All of this aggression, dominance, winning blather is crap. Fighting is live or die. No game.

    • There are many questions in the comments. I will attempt to address a few. I reply to this comment, because it touches one of my reasons for playing jiu jitsu.

      If I am drawn into a physical conflict that can be resolved without having to kill or maim my opponent, who may be drunk, distressed, or whatever, I want the skills to end the conflict as gently as possible. I don’t want to have to maim someone who is having a bad day and takes a swing at me or someone else. In short, I don’t believe that death is the necessary moral conclusion to violence.

      What can be learned? Much must be experienced, because the art is embodied knowledge not spoken understanding. What of it that can be spoken is incomplete. If one wishes to know, one must experience the mat.

      What have I experienced in the gym? Some macho posturing. To be sure there are people working through insecurities there and everywhere.

      The interplay of cooperation and competition; to improve at grappling, I offer my eventual opponents the same opportunity.

      Trust in my partner’s restraint. To play a potentially deadly game more than once we must agree to stop when our partner asks. What else? The humility to value learning by losing in order to offer better training to my partners and to win.

      Generosity. Give my partners the best I can on any given day. Some are here for the sheer joy of working a complex problem at the limits of their competency. Some of them are police officers and their lives or the life of someone they are trying to subdue may depend on this skill one day. Some are women or children who might need a true measure of their skill against a larger and stronger opponent should life come to fight or flee. So much of women’s self defense is just dangerous nonsense. They need and deserve men brave enough to compete physically and lose in order to know that what they know works.

      Real experience. The mat tells no lies and suffers no casual evasions. Pretenders will be exposed. That is incredibly refreshing as many have attested, and for those of us who live too much in our heads, the live resistance of a thinking opponent demands full and embodied attention in a way that no inanimate challenge or rapt contemplation can.

  24. Gray says

    This article is misleading. The APA’s guidelines don’t describe stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness as “on the whole harmful”…in fact the phrase never appears in the guidelines at all – so it shouldn’t be in quotation marks. What the guidelines say is that socialisation can harmfully instantiate these traits in ways that have damaging effects on human psychology. Any reasonable person should be able to accept that – go look at the way some ‘sport parents’ behave and treat their children.

    It’s disappointing that Quillette would publish this without fact checking the article. There is a quote incorrectly attributed. The link to the actual guidelines appears to broken, too…it goes to, not the guidelines. Coincidence? I hope so.

  25. Saw file says

    Wilful individual combat is a profound experience. It is deeply primal. It’s as REAL as you can get, and the ultimate act of self discipline. To fight rather than to flee.
    Knowing self defense is akin to knowing how to swim. It could potentially save your life, or the life of someone who you care about.

  26. Lightning Rose says

    “‘Tis the image of war without its guilt, and five-and-twenty percent of the danger.”

    People who dismiss it literally don’t know what they’re talking about. In a post-modern world searching in vain for authenticity among WiFi cafes full of fake beverages and fake solutions to made-up problems, which have been invented in the fortunate vacuum of any credible existential threat to most urban lives, one should not discount such primal experiences as are still available.

    Like fear of red meat, the primal is too scary for many people to approach. The knowledge of “how they would measure up” is a place they dare not go. I have seen people literally bolt from the dojo and disappear forever when they get too close to these uncomfortable truths!

  27. Charlie says

    Let us study history. Buddhism, Hinduism and Daosim discuss emotions and in most countries there are martial arts which is often part of the training of priests and nuns for example: Jujitsu -Japan, Shaolin Temple Kung Fu- China, Wing Chung- started by Buddhist Chinese nun, Bando- Burma, Thai Boxing- Thailand and various southern Indian martial arts. Martial arts are a simple way to show if someone has conquered fear, anger spite, resentment, cruelty, etc, etc. Can a person lose with grace? Does a person move in graceful way? Many oriental martial arts are part of the training in medicine, art, philosophy, religion ,etc, etc of the enlightened person or in the western tradition, the renaissance person. Those who can wield the brush can wield the sword! The training of a person so they wield the brush with a lightness of touch is that required to wield the sword.

    The advantage of children learning how to fall safely in judo, jujitsu and aikido is that it can lessen injuries when they come of bikes, roller skates, horses, etc,.

    Bullying occurs when a person can inflict their will on someone else without enduring any suffering. If larger person tries to bully a smaller person and they fight back, perhaps giving the aggressor a black eye, broken nose or fat lip they are less likely to be attacked again. Teaching boys to box and or fight usually means the bully rarely escapes unscathed and therefore is unlikely to start a fight again as they wish to win without suffering pain. The child who wishes to study and can fight is less likely to be intimidated from bullies.

    Boxing has been part of the Western Tradition since the Minoan times as depicted in murals and boxing, wrestling and pankratrion was part of the Olympics from 776 BC. There is a comment by Zeus in which he says humans will need gods as long as they are cowardly, lazy and venal.
    Arthur Bryant point s out that boxing was part of British life from the Middle Ages for all classes. Prior to the development of rugby and football in the mid 19th century, the main sports at public schools were bare knuckle boxing, cudgel fighting and fencing. It was expected that a gentlemen should be able to stand up and fight in order to defend himself otherwise how could he oppose tyranny? Steve Pinker has looked at murder rates from about 1300 AD and what is interesting is that England’s is about half that of Italy. In Italy disputes led to people being stabbed whereas in England conflicts were normally sorted out with fists.

    We could say the ability for a man or women to be able to defend themselves is irrelevant but this is not the case. Weak and cowardly people are usually cruel and devious. Those who undertook torture and murder under Nazi and Communist regimes, the Gestapo, concentration camp guards and KGB were usually weak and cowardly people, not frontline combat soldiers. The only time these men had power over stronger men was as camp guards : Just read F Yeo- Thomas GC, Odette Hallows GC, M Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn. If one looks at the toughest soldiers of WW2( Commandos , Special Forces ) they were from all classes but they were usually those who had boxed and /or played rugby such as Sergeant Douglas Pomford SBS, MM and Bar Major General Corran Brandon MC. Service in tough units produced friendship across class divides. Lt Colonel David Sutherland( SBS) MC and bar, an Etonian and son of a landowner called D Pomford his friend and invited him to his wedding. How much friendship is there now between the affluent wealthy towards tough blue collar types?

    In fact rugby and boxing strips away class and reveals character. Ibn Khaldun said those who lived in the country, the Beduin were upright and manly while those who lived in owns protected by walls and garrisons became degenerate.

    We now have an affluent soft effete class protected by walls and armed guards who are incapable of protecting their wealth. At least in the Middle Ages the aristocracy could fight and defend it’s wealth. The British landowner who grew up boxing and playing cricket with the village children and carried on fighting at school plus learnt to use cudgels and swords was not weak or cowardly: they could socialise with men of all classes without being physically intimidated or feeling inferior. In the 17th to 19 century gentlemen trained at gyms run by bare knuckle boxers. In fact until the mid 1960s, all boys schools had boxing teams. The public schools considered character – courage, industriousness and honesty more important than intellect which was why sports were emphasised. It was important to train boys to be able to thrive in the hurly burly and rough and tumble of life. All academic study does is turn someone who is cruel and venal into some more dangerous; it does not make them a morally better person.

    What is common now is that many affluent effete men feel physically intimidated and inferior when dealing with tough blue collar types. There is a sort of hysterical fear /anxiety from these affluent soft effete impractical men. An example of a man from an affluent background who went through hard physical training as youth ( boxing and rugby ) was the late Major General Corran Purdon. At 3min 1 says it was an honour to serve with British soldiers: he is not physically intimidated by them.

    What we have in the West is that the vast majority of opinion formers – politicians, senior civil servants , lawyers, humanities academics, journalists , entertainers , wealthy financiers are effete impractical affluent types who fear and consequently loathe physically tough blue collar men who defend them, plus build and operate the physical aspects of the modern world. If these types played rugby and boxed with tough blue collars they would not feel physically intimidated and hence loathe men who make them feel inferior.

    Many of those who fought in the toughest units in WW2 grew up in poverty scarred by The Depression and did not use knives to sort out arguments as young men, they used their fists- Sergeant Douglas Pomford for example. Poverty is not an excuse for using knives and guns but cowardice provides the reason.

    In general, humans fear and hence loathe that which makes them appear inferior and inadequate. Perhaps the way to break down class and racial barriers is to force teenagers from all backgrounds to play rugby and box. Forcing the children of effete affluent types to play rugby and box with and against those from tough blue collar would break down class and racial divides and would toughen up the former and reduce their fear and loathing of the latter.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Charlie, you nailed it. One of my best instructors, one deeply immersed in Taoist study, always said “Beware the weak man.” He considered the kinds you describe far more dangerous than any pugilist, and for all the reasons you mention. Great post!

      I taught Shaolin Kempo to kids and teens for half a decade and felt it was an enormously positive influence. Had to stop when the public schools where I was teaching as an after-school activity adopted “zero-tolerance” policies toward all forms of physical contact between students, even in sports, making the entire discipline’s component parts disallowed. Worse yet was a daft “anti-bullying” policy which declared anyone defending themselves physically from a bully would be deemed just as guilty as their aggressor, with equal penalties for both, up to expulsion.

      So, when kids asked about the practical use of the art in self-defense I was restricted to advising that if some kid was trying to pound their face into the curb, all they could do was scream for help and hope for a teacher in earshot as a matter of Board of Ed policy. Seeing the writing on the wall, I left that year right before PC became even more unhinged from reality.

  28. Colonel of Truth says

    Very well said. I’ve also noticed that affluent effete men are also often physically intimidated, even terrified, of people of color. This only exacerbates the racial divide.

    Many thoughtful people have embraced martial arts for its culture of discipline, honor and purity (another well-known practitioner of BJJ is Sam Harris). In my mind, a culture of self-discipline and personal responsibility is exactly the antidote for what ails this country, and modern society more broadly.

    • Charlie says

      Thank you. Another aspect is that people are not undertaking physical work. The most dangerous form of work are forestry and commercial trawling where mistakes cause death and injury- office work does not. One has to work as part of team and work together. Someone who takes part in physically dangerous work and boxes exists in a world where pretentious drivel and self delusion can cause pain, injury and death.

  29. Jezza says

    A comment from the other side of the fence: I have never fought for anything, never had to, so the physical and spiritual fulfillment described in the article is foreign to me, yet I know, in my heart, that it is true. I applaud the gentlemen who have the ability to stand up and take it. You have my respect.
    Wait a bit, my memory is failing. I have had a couple of scuffles. I won one, drew one, lost one. That’s an average of one confrontation every twenty-five years. Can only be described as “negligible”. Cheers.

  30. Nakatomi Plaza says

    You’re not going to believe this, but women do MMA as well.

    • Charlie says

      The more women train to defend themselves, the more capable they are to defend themselves when attacked.
      When a former female member of the SOE was attacked in her sixties by three muggers one has kicked in the groin ,one received a knife hand blow to the throat and one was thrown down some steps-she was trained by Fairbairn and Sykes. I have never understood why feminists never chose the women of the SOE as role models.
      Why do women spend so little time in learning to defend themselves when feminist often say they are at risk from being attacked by men?

  31. Man says


    I’m decidedly a conscious ape, emphasis on the “ape.” We have the gift of self-awareness and use it for what? Talking politics and burning oil, speeding up the mutation clock that drives natural selection until complex organisms like mammals can’t even evolve fast enough to outpace cancer?

    Just so we can convince ourselves that we’re some kind of gods instead of primates whose evolutionary strategy happens to involve the manipulation of symbols? Wow, so impressive. We isolated antibiotics and reached the moon, let’s go jerk off to technological progress.

    Yes, I recognize that I’m in the extreme minority. Especially here on Quillette, where 8 of every 10 articles are about parsing various interpretations of some boring abstraction. The time wasted on this kind of nonsense is better spent sparring (the current article’s topic) or having sex.

    The really strange and terrible part is that I’m more scientifically literate than most here, and intimately familiar with the hubris I repudiate. That’s actually why I do so, but feel free to assume I’m merely stupid or regressive if it makes you feel safer.

  32. mpass says

    Great article thanks. One regret I have is not learning a martial art. I’m encouraging my kids to learn Brazilian jujitsu for all kids of reasons.

  33. davidhughes97 says

    Good article … but could be better if the author had anchored it in our understanding of biology and genetics, which are even more formative in our behavior than psychology. We can’t fully understand a problem (man’s natural need to be aggressive) until we understand its root cause, and that means understand Darwin, Richard Hawkins, E.O. Wilson, et al – “evolutionary biology and psychology.” Perhaps the author hasn’t study this discipline (he should if he’s counseling men).

  34. Given the original meaning of “To settle it like men” and given the context of this article, I can see it applying. whether you have an issue with another guy, or with yourself, settling it on the mat is a good way of resolving that which words cannot.

  35. John Rickabaugh says

    In this context, if you are “settling it like men”, are you really resolving anything other than physical/technical dominance? The virtues and values of martial arts are not found in the victory, but in the education, the preparation, and the application of learned skills, conditioning, and toughness. Winning can be exhilarating, but might does not make right. There’s not a thing wrong with masculinity, and I don’t believe it’s toxic even in today’s parlance.

    When conflict arises, pounding your opponent into submission doesn’t make your argument or position correct, it just makes you the better fighter. Might as well have trial by combat rather than court proceedings.

    Having said that, I agree with much of what the author writes about and I also agree that the title is a little misleading. Good read.

  36. Gary says

    I prefer to think of Toxic Aggression as”Uncontrolled Reactivity” which leads us to act quickly on deep bitter emotions that can cause us to damage ourselves and/or others. It is said that “Moses was a meek man because he had strength under control”. The Bible calls that dignity for semnotes in Greek that comes from the Golden Balance between aggressively running over others or passively allowing others to run over us.” It is not dignified to do either but Reactivity is an automatic, uncontrolled, non thinking action without counting the cost.

    Martial Arts is all about balance and not losing control. Reactivity is losing control but the APA Guidelines seem to completely miss that mark on that point. It seems to be coming from wounded women that are Reacting to their own past hurts. Reactive females are as toxic and dangerous as males. Far more women attack men physically than vice versa.

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