Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, April 19, 2015

That Male Fighting Instinct

"Neuroscientists don't fully understand the physiology of a knockout, but here's the gist. The brain is a soggy, fatty, gelatinous meat computer, with chemicals and electrical signals running through trillions of wispy connections. The shock wave from a heavy blow rolls through the brain like a tsunami, shearing connections and disrupting signals. Effectively the brain shorts out. And the man falls stiff and twitchy to the mat until the brain can reroute the signals and get back online."
"I came to see MMA [mixed martial arts], especially at the amateur level, as a fairly healthy way for men to explore their capacities. To have a chance to struggle and to demonstrate, at least to themselves, that they have the right stuff."
Jonathan Gottschall, The Professor in the Cage
Gilberto Tadday
Gilberto Tadday   Jonathan Gottschall
"Fighting is hardwired into us, it is a part of who we are."
David Carrier, biology professor, University of Utah

"You hug [post-fight embrace] because you understand how hard your opponent has trained. And any fighter can say that they are not scared, but there is always fear, no matter how much experience you have."
"It takes a brave person to step in the cage and to go there."
"Being at that edge, and passing through that barrier [personal breaking point], was my favourite part of fighting. I never wanted to hurt anybody."
Mark Hominick, nine-time Canadian MMA champion
Canada's Public Health Agency reports that fights among Grade 6 boys is a common enough occurrence that 20 percent of male children find themselves at some point in their lives involved in physical violence. Assuredly this isn't all boys, but it represents a significant number; one in five. Some are bullies, some are boys who happen to fall into a disagreement that winds up being expressed physically.

It helps to remember that men are biologically programmed to be conflict-physical since it's an integral part of the survival instinct that nature endowed them with. In primal conditions, competition for scarce resources that could mean the difference between extinction and survival always led to conflict, and it still does in areas of the world where material privation is a fact of life. It is why tribes and clans reveal themselves to be hostile to those who don't belong to their group.

We may no longer need to complete for shelter from natural forces and preying animals, to defend a hunting territory that provides sustenance, to seek out opposite gender partners to pass on genes as part of nature's survival instinct, yet that instinct for survival has identified alternate routes, where goods acquisition has taken the place of the necessities of life, and we acquire an emotional need to possess material things that appear to assure our place in life through possessions.

Fighting, as a means of acquiring territory to provide for shelter and food may no longer prevail in civil society, but there are proxy activities that satisfy in many men that vicarious thrill of physical involvement, like sports, like signing on for the military reserves, like play-acting with others, using faux arms. But the 'sport' of martial arts has its consequences, when men batter one another with the intention of knocking out their opponents. Not that sports itself doesn't have similar consequences in the danger of concussions and knockouts.

The author of the book, The Professor in the Cage, found himself, as an academic, under-employed, ill compensated and bored, contemplating alternate means of expressing himself and in the process perhaps earning more than the pittance he was making as a contract teacher of English. He decided to look into the culture of young men fixating on martial arts competitions, training endlessly, building their body musculature and learning how to comport themselves in a boxing, a wrestling, a mixed-fight ring.

A University of Toronto study published in 2014 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine reached the conclusion that a mixed martial artist suffers traumatic brain injuries in close to a third of professional bouts; a rate of head injuries higher than what is sustained playing hockey, football, and boxing as well. The goal in MMA is physically beating your opponent out of competition, and that generally results in a knockout, completely physically incapacitating the other.

The Canadian Medical Association had launched a campaign five years ago to convince the provinces to ban the sport, citing the long-term health implications for those engaged as competitors in mixed martial arts. Their effort came to naught. Ultimate Fighting Championship since 1998 has held 17 events in Canada. Several sellout events held in Montreal grossed about $60 million on gate receipts.

As for Jonathan Gottschall, he began attending a gym to be taught how to handle himself in a ring against any opponents whose reason for being there was the same as his own. To demonstrate personal toughness and tenacity; to exercise the belief in themselves, that they are capable of fending for themselves and surmounting the adversity of another man's physical strength and dexterity overcoming their own. No hard feelings, just a spirited physical competition to see who would emerge the victor.

After fifteen months of tutelage in the ring, being battered in the gym of a professional martial art instructor, he felt on top of his game. He went up against a 24-year-old, when he was himself in his early 30s. When he took on the younger man he described the event as "maybe the coolest thing I have ever accomplished in my life". Having pinned the younger man down, preparing to finish him off, he was suddenly flipped, and he found himself trapped, and needing to surrender.

The fight of his life had lased 47 seconds. The professor, briefly turned martial artist, had come up against a younger man, a nurse, proving himself to himself.

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