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GNARL's picture
Why Men Fight discussion - Sam Harris


I found this to be an extremely interesting discussion about various topics related to violence, martial arts, combatives, etc.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

That’s a very interesting interview! Thanks for sharing! This bit jumped out for me:

“But what I’ve found, especially in MMA gyms, is that the realm is dominated by young men. You’re talking about men who are 15 to 24 years old. In my gym there was almost no demographic diversity. There were very few women and graybeards. More or less everyone was a young man.

And if you ask these guys, “What are you doing here? This is kind of a weird thing to do, getting punched in the face all the time. Why do you do this?” one thing you don’t hear is “I want to know what to do in a self-defense situation. What if I’m walking down the street and a mugger comes along? How can I defend myself?” They’re not worried about that.

What these young men are worried about is winning a duel. They’re just like me. They’ve been in situations where they got bullied, and if that ever comes up again, they want to be in a position to stand up for themselves. They want to avoid humiliation and dishonor. They’re preparing for duels. So, generally speaking, I think they’re less likely to back down from a fight.

But part of the reason you prepare for duels is because then everyone knows you’re preparing for duels. So in their social network, these men are advertising themselves as the sort of men who are not going to take any shit because they’re dangerous. They are establishing a reputational deterrent against disrespect as well as aggression.”

Statistically it is young males (under 24) who are most likely to engage in violence and, as the piece touched upon, part of this is the unwillingness to “back down”. I was a young man once, I totally get it. However, as we get older and acquire things of far greater impotence (a good job, family, children, etc) and hence we are less likely to risk life, limb and liberty in order to protect ego.

One of the negatives with MMA is that is lacks longevity (very tough on the body). The observation is correct that is primarily engaged in by young males. Conversely, we find many “grey beards” in traditional martial arts. In the west we lack a defined path to adulthood and I think MMA is one vehicle by which young males can “prove themselves” in a productive way. Traditional martial arts – in their true sense, not the toothless versions masquerading as such which are alluded to in the interview – place a strong emphasis on avoidance and escape and hence do not focus on duelling … and therefore this maybe why they have less appeal to younger males?

Take Itosu’s first precept (1908):

“Karate is not intended to be used against a single opponent but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian.”

As we see, karate was not intended for use against a single opponent (a duel) but as a way of avoiding harm from the criminal element (“avoiding injury” when confronted by a “villain or ruffian”).

The way this coincides with the needs of various age groups, may well influence the popularity within those age groups?

It’s therefore probably quite natural that younger males want to focus on duelling, and older martial artists wish to focus more on self-protection? The young male wishes to prove himself and will hence seek out duels. The older male wants to protect what he has, and hence is keen to avoid duels.

This has sparked off a chain of thought which will influence the semi-written future podcast called “An age old question” where I wanted to cover both the health and self-defence needs of differing age groups. Emotional needs is something that needs factored in too I think.

In providing a positive way for young males to prove themselves in duels, MMA would seem to have a vital part to play in the martial mix in the way that traditional and self-protection based systems cannot.

All the best,


GNARL's picture


Thanks for the reply. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the dueling aspect and as always, look forward to your next podcast.