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Tau's picture
Alcohol Consumption

Off the back of the teaching bunkai with experience thread...

Given that we're all pragmatically-minded Martial Artists and people generally serious about our health, how much alcohol do we consume? At home and socially.

Personally I've been to university and done the drink-myself-into-oblivion-every-weekend thing. At the time it was fun. In hindsight it's pretty stupid. These days I drink very little. I confess to a bottle of beer on a Wednesday after my biggest class, just to chill and reflect. The exception being when I go from class to night shift. And on a rare night in at home with my other half we can make our way through a bottle of wine. But that really is my usually weekly intake. What, four units at best? This change wasn't a deliberate lifestyle choice but natural change of how I live.

What I preach to my students and that I stand by personally is that there are three things that I can (potentially) do when I'm alcohol free that are impeded or prevented by alcohol consumption:

1. Drive

2. Defend myself and others

3. Do first aid

All of these things can save a life.

Furthermore, with my wife's health, when we're out socially I'm usually driving anyway.

The counterpoint is that martial artists or not, we're entitled to a life and the odd pint (in the right environment and right company) is fine. The problem being when that environment or company changes. Mark B highlighted a family wedding.

So, what this comes down to is.... what effect, if any, does your Martial Arts have on your alcohol consumption?

Mark B
Mark B's picture

My alcohol intake these days as very low indeed. Even when my wife and I get a take away in on a Saturday night I tend to drink juice. I love to cook, when I do the full Sunday roast thing I will have one can of Lager whilst cooking, and that's it. At a social gathering of family I may have a few drinks, after one Lager I drink Brandy and lemonade (heavy on the lemonade) which I drink slowly. As a single guy I used to drink plenty, it's worth noting this was the period in my life where I gained my "actual experience", coming out of one rather unhappy relationship and finding I quite liked single life. I can say without hesitation that my training absolutely influences what I drink, and where I do it, and with whom. I think it's another excellent positive by-product of immersing yourself I the martial arts. I like a drink occasionally, but if I'm in an environment where I know the potential for trouble is higher I lay off drink. As I say to my wife, there is little point training to a high level, then entering an environment where the odds of trouble are higher (a town centre bar for example) and drinking so much that your skills are useless just at that moment when you need them most.

Regards Mark

Katz's picture

I also used to drink in college, then occasionnally past being able to drive at parties andd such. Never been much of a drinker at home.

Stopped that recently much for the same reasons that have been mentioned before :

I do martial arts and am a trained first aider (not sure what the actuel term in English is...). I do both those activities so when bad things happen, I can react and hopefully save lives. I would REALLY hate it if the one time something happens to me, I am unable to act approprietely because I'm drunk. So I've reduced to maximum two glasses during parties. Now I'm trying to get my motorbike driving license. So I am reducing to one, sometimes none.

Thing is, I think because I drink so little now, I'm not used to it anymore. Even one (strong) beer gets to my head faster than it used to.

I have it a bit easier socially (where people don't always understand you don't drink) because my wife is a great party drinker, so I can be the designated driver all the time, and people leave me alone. :D

So I wouldn't say I've stopped drinking for my health. It's more along the whole business of being ready to face anything that's thrown at me, and that doesn't apply only to martial arts.

MCM180's picture

I've stopped drinking largely because I have a bad reaction to any alcohol - it's like an allergic reaction (runny nose, etc.). Blasted shame, too - I used to enjoy a really dark beer every now and then.

I don't think my martial arts interest would affect my drinking anyway. Like Katz above, I generally prefer to stay sober to face life (emergencies and daily life alike). I also often carry a concealed firearm when I'm out, and it's illegal to drink while carrying. And I'm a big control freak and being at all drunk makes me feel out of control.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

As always, the precautions taken must be commesurate to the threat. There's no doubt that alcohol should not be drunk in excess for both personal safety and health reasons. However, a few glasses of wine in a nice restaurant is unlikely to impact on either and can be one of life's pleasures. If you have a serious concern that it may "kick off" in a given location, then my advice would be don't go to that location; sober or not.

Public bars pose a higher risk than drinking in private or a restaurant because you don't know who else could enter that environment and some people enter bars to get "smashed"; whereas they tend to be in a restaurant for the food. For a "relaxing drink" I'd advise picking the friendly bars frequented by calmer cliental. Known trouble spots should be avoided; and when in doubt get local advice. 

Smart to avoid drinking late into the night too, and to avoid days known for heavy drinking i.e. "Black Eye Friday" (last working Friday before Christmas). 

Drinking moderately in good company in a good place greatly reduces the likelihood of violence. It's never zero risk though so always good to keep the level of consumption to a sensible level.

Paranoia and an ever-present fear of violence (as opposed to a healthy and proportionate awareness) is also damaging to an individual's health and quality of life. If people are avoiding a relaxing beer in the company of friends because of a fear of violence erupting then they may have crossed the line to paranoia (or they need to get better friends). In addition to the damange a constant state of "high alert" can do mentally, it also can prevent people from enjoying life. Not that alcohol is needed to enjoy life! But I'd be worried about the guy who would not have one or two beers when relaxing with friends if the sole reason for abstaining was that violence could erupt at any moment. 

It's also worth remembering that "voluntary intoxication" removes the right to be judged on your personal beliefs under UK law. If you are sober, you can be both mistaken and unreasonable in your belief; but if it is honestly held then you can rely on it in court. You can't if you are drunk. Note that the law says "intoxicated" so you'd still be OK with a glass of wine, but if  you have drunk an amount that the court considers will have effected your judgement then things can get legally difficult too.

As regards health, the chances of dying of alcohol consumption is relatively low for most people; certainly compared to the huge risk posed by smoking (around 50% chance of dying directly from smoking). So if we are smoking then that's something that needs a greater priority for the health side of things. Mabuni was very anti-drinking for karate (he said it would make your motions "effeminate") but he was a huge smoker. Motobu and Kyan were very pro-drinking though. Proof the past masters should not be taken as all-wise sages with impeccable and consistent virtue.  

We are far more likely to die from poor lifestyle choices than we are from violence so low / moderate drinking is sensible and definitely part of a healthy martial lifestyle. Wise to avoid the paranoia as well though.

All the best,


dhogsette's picture

Thank you, Iain, for that reminder toward moderation, in all things, moderation. I firmly believe that life is a blessed gift that is meant to be enjoyed with family and good friends. And, the process of fermentation is also a blessed gift that helps us enjoy this life--just think of the wondrous libations and culinary delights created with fermentation. A pint or two with a nice bourbon or whisky with a few friends discussing martial arts, literature, and a bit of theology here and there makes for a wondrous time indeed. 



Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

dhogsette wrote:
Thank you, Iain, for that reminder toward moderation, in all things, moderation … the process of fermentation is also a blessed gift that helps us enjoy this life.

Indeed. There’s a 1000-year-old Viking poem I like which says both “Shun not the mead, but drink in measure” and “Less good than they say is drinking for men, because the more they drink, the less they think, and the less they have their wits about them”.

Not a people one immediately associates with moderation, but the Vikings knew that a small drink in good company can be one of life’s pleasures; but that drinking can bring huge problems if overindulged in.

The best way to enjoy life’s pleasures is in moderation. Let anything control you and it no longer brings pleasure, but instead pain and problems.

The wisdom of this is also captured in the bible too, “Drink your wine with a merry heart” (Ecclesiastes 9:7) and “Do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18). OK to drink. Not OK to get drunk.

It depends on the person too. Not everyone can drink in moderation and hence for some total abstinence is the wisest option.

The Irish proverb of, “A man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man” accurately describes the cycle for some.

A small drink in good company can be a genuine pleasure. But when in any doubt about the company kept, or one’s own ability to drink moderately, then always wise to err on the side of caution. Plenty of things that are much more fun.

All the best,