Make Peace


Note:  Though I originally wrote this in 2012, it’s turned out to be a timeless reminder that is even more appropriate today.


I was walking toward a store, thinking the everyday thoughts we immerse ourselves in when we tread familiar ground, blindly, when I suddenly became aware of the person in front of me, coming out the door. We were uncomfortably far apart, that is, I was not close enough to catch the door upon his exit but also too far to make holding it open obvious and easy. We were both caught in that awkward no man’s land where the social dances don’t engage cleanly. I could speed up, and yet that would be kind of weird, as if I expected him to hold it for me. That would be assuming too much, a possible imposition. I saw the inner struggle on his face, which suddenly went calm as he stepped aside and stopped the door with his foot, waiting for me. I graciously accepted the gesture and thanked him, this person whom I will, in all reality, never see again.

And that small decision changed the trajectory of my mood, my day, and is still with me more than a week later. That moment, and others like it, larger and smaller, is what we’re here for.

How many times do I expect to hurt someone? The real answer is never, even though three times a week I entertain the idea and put it into practice, lecturing and teaching the physical application of violence, demoed in twisted, grunting forms. These are not the shapes and sounds of happy people, or direct good. It is, as I’ve said before, the failure of everything we love. And though I’ve devoted my life to it, I hope to never do it outside the training environment again.

So the opportunities for mayhem are thankfully thin.

But the opportunities to make peace, for being kinder than perhaps we feel, are many and daily.

This is the completely counterintuitive way in which I use what I know—how awful things could be—on a daily basis. Every encounter with a stranger is a potential murder. The concentration of such things in the media and our own tribal instincts tells us so. And yet, until I believe I have no choice, I must do everything in my power to steer us away from the shipwrecking shoals of petty ego, suspicion and fear and take us into deeper, calmer waters. If that’s too Zen-Hallmark for you, just consider how the small kindnesses, given freely and with no expectation of return, make you feel.

When I go out my front door the goal is to make it back again. And while I have taken precautions against the worst that humanity has to offer, it does me—and you—no good to spend that day living in fear. Train so you know you’ve prepared for the unthinkable… and then forget about it. Live your life free of the dread that perhaps brought you to training in the first place. In the short term, my job is to show people what to do in that worst-case scenario; in the long term my job is to ameliorate fear, to free people from it as this practice has freed me.

Replace that fear with knowledge: everyone is frail and mortal, so you might as well relax.

If violence is the failure of everything we love, then every day free of it should be spent reinforcing the things that make life good—look for those opportunities to make peace. A smile is such a small thing. Holding a door. Reaching out to help when those sudden, happenstance opportunities unfold right in front of you.

In a world where the person holding the door is seen as a sucker, where kindness is equated with weakness, it is a shocking thing to see the strong and capable make way and lend a hand. I didn’t need him to hold the door for me. I would have thought no less of him had he let it go. In fact, I wouldn’t have thought of him at all, ever again. And yet here I am changed by that infinitesimal act, inspired to write and share it with you.

Some days it’s easier to believe that the human soul is attuned to horror, that darkness is its resonant frequency. We are too quick to be affected by it, and the echoes linger too long. But those tiny taps of minor kindnesses can change the pitch—they just need to be applied constantly in order to reinforce.

So now, today, and beyond this season, make peace. You never know the circumstances of the person right in front of you, and how your conduct might alter the trajectory of their mood, their day, their week… and like a pebble dropped in a pond, ripples radiating outward to people you will never even see or interact with. But they may all be touched by what you do right now.

— Chris Ranck-Buhr

“You know it ain’t cool to kill on Christmas.”

(Title quote from the inestimable Johnny Cash.)

One of the truths about studying violence is that it makes you really uninterested in being involved in it.  Dramatic ass-kicking, on the other hand, is attractive—mainly because of your perception of increased social standing.  “Teaching someone a lesson” makes you a badass… and who doesn’t want that?

Of course, fighting is necessarily nonspecific.  It won’t be any more explicit than “hit him” or “kick his ass.”  The moment you begin to apply specifics it gets a lot less fun.  Gouging an eye, crushing a throat or snapping a knee backwards are all obviously awful, and usually go far beyond whatever lesson you hoped to teach him.  You recognize that once you get specific you’re no longer teaching, but destroying.  And your social standing will, if anything, probably decrease as you freak your friends out.  That, and finding out the cold difference between the title of “badass” and “psychotic.”

Knowing the truth about violence and still being eager to engage in it is crazy.  So we lie to ourselves, make a game of it, a contest, we try to believe violence is something that can be dialed up or down… that there’s such a thing as “extreme violence.”  We cling to these ideas because we still want it to be fun and to be the badass of our fantasies.

But real violence, the unrestrained use of it (and that’s the only way it works—just ask a bullet) is dirty, kind of scary, and truly awful.

Looking this reality full in the face is both sickening and, secretly, disappointing.  The love affair with being the hero ends abruptly in blood and screaming.  You realize that if you get to choose whether or not to be involved, the answer is, with some relief, no.

This is what we mean when we say that training to use violence leads to a more peaceful life.  Not as a fortune cookie aphorism, or because we forbid you to use it, but because the truth repels and lessens your ardor to do these things to people in all but the most dire of circumstances.  Keeping the fantasy alive makes you more likely to engage—after all, it’s just an ass-kicking, and he really does deserves it.  When you know there’s no such thing, that physical violence which does not permanently alter peoples’ lives isn’t skill, but just dumb luck, you’ll do what you can to not have to break his leg.

The three most important outcomes of this training are:

1.  Reduced desire to be involved in violence (unless you have no choice)

2.  Ceasing to look like a victim

3.  Knowing how to shut off a human being.

In that order.  So it’s peaceful, predatory, and having the teeth to back it up.  

Early in my career as an instructor I put number three as the only reason to train.  It wasn’t until the stories of those I trained began to filter back—not just the ones where they shut someone off (that was to be expected), but the ones where they spoke of predators waving off when they believed contact was inevitable, and, most telling, stories of changed behavior, solving conflict in new ways that didn’t involve fists.  Simply because they realized it wasn’t necessary… and that if it could be avoided it should.  The importance of this hit me because now the practice of shutting people off had real daily benefits, instead of a few frenzied seconds someday, or perhaps never.

And so it turns out you can use your training daily without ending up in prison.  It can make the worst among us pass you by in search of an easier mark, and having the tool of violence in your back pocket can give you the confidence to try solving problems where in the past you may have reflexively fought or fled.  Besides, if your read on the situation turns out wrong you can always break his leg, right?

This is how violence can lead to peace, at least on a personal level.

So train for that moment where nothing else will do, but enjoy the fruits of that labor on a daily basis:  trading fear for resolve, paranoia for relaxation, violence paradoxically becoming peace.

All the best to you & yours with wishes for a peace-filled New Year,

Chris Ranck-Buhr & The Injury Dynamics Team

It’s Not About You

Unless you’re a jerk, and then it’s your own fault you just made it personal…

The unfortunate thing about the experience of consciousness is that we are, each of us, the star of our very own movie. The story is all about you, it happens to you, and you have screenwriter and director credit. (Of course it doesn’t always feel like you’re the architect and author, but believe me, when the final credits roll you’ll catch the blame for how it all turned out, right or wrong.)

Most of the time you’re sitting alone in the theater, munching popcorn and sipping a ludicrously-sized Coke, watching the whole shebang swirl gradually by on the screen, amused and pained in turns by the familiar cast of recurring characters. Here comes Relative #3, going on about the stuff she always goes on about; now it’s Protagonist’s BFF who always knows just what to say — as long as he isn’t drunk. And so it goes. You sit and munch and sip amid the swirl…

…until that awful moment when one of the extras — one of the extras — breaks the fourth wall and addresses you directly, in tones normally reserved for Relative #3 or your drunk BFF. This time, it’s personal. You get ready to pop off with a cutting Tarantino riposte, and maybe a fantasy gunfight sequence. And the projectionist, being nothing more than an obedient employee, gets ready to roll end credits —

Here’s the part where I break the film, or have the projector jam and burn through (or just have the signal glitch, you know, for you kids) so you can leave the theater and see what you’d otherwise miss completely: the extra’s theater.

The first thing you notice is that it’s not as nice as yours; maybe it still hasn’t recovered from the fire, or the water damage. And it’s smaller — or bigger, but in a totally non-cozy, scary sort of way, full of too much echoing dark. And they’re not sitting alone — they’re surrounded, maybe, by the ghosts of the unquiet dead. Instead of popcorn and a Coke they have to hold a crying child the whole time.

And you watch their movie for a bit and it makes you think about your own movie — the one that you swore was the most realistic disaster film ever — but it’s actually an uplifting rom-com compared to this horror show…

Of course, it was all just a dream, because you can’t leave the theater of your skull, and as writer, director and Capital-S Superstar it’s time for you put that mouthy extra back in their place and let them know what’s what.

And the projectionist, being nothing more than an obedient employee, gets ready to roll end credits —

You know, just in case.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr