The Power of Martial Arts

Angel's mugging changed my life, and in a way it saved my life. We were
best friends as freshmen in high school in a tough neighborhood in the
Bronx. As Catholic school students we rode the city bus together to and
from school wearing jackets and ties. As usual, on the way home, I got
off the bus at my stop and Angel got off at the next stop after mine.

However, one morning his face was bruised and, quite honestly, a mess. He
had been mugged, for a dollar, but he had fought back. It was amazing to
me even then, how violently he fought to keep his dollar. I grew up
without my father. Since Angel and I were best freinds, we considered
each other brothers, and Angel's dad was a father figure to me. To Angel's
father the mugging was a wake-up call. He not only enrolled Angel in a
martial arts class, he enrolled me as well. The martial art was
Taekwondo.

I lived a sort of double life, in school for those daytime hours and then
later in my own neighborhood. My jacket and tie put a target on my back
when I came home from school each day and into my confrontational block.
I was more scholarly than athletic. Still, it wasn't easy to remain
patient and keep cool when the kids hanging around my neighborhood
provoked me. School was predominantly white; my home zone was
predominantly black. TaeKwondo elevated my attitude toward it all.

The prevailing idea in my neighborhood was that you had to step up and
meet force with force -- or be eaten for breakfast. But from the moment I
started TaeKwondo, I loved it and I was good at it. Angel and I were
practicing it first and foremost for self-defense. But soon it became more
for me. It taught me to harness my energy and to use it in a positive way
rather than just stepping up and meeting brute force with brute force.

Doing Taekwondo helped me put confrontation, which even then I wanted to
avoid, in a safe place -- a place where nobody was getting mugged or
beaten, but even so a place where I could learn to defend myself. It gave
me another neighborhood where I could be sports-oriented, another group of
people, another home away from home in the Dojo. Everyone there had the
same purpose and philosophy.

Then, when I went to medical school I began to think about martial arts in
a more mature and conscious way. I practiced a little Kung Fu, Okinawa
style Karate, and during my residency I learned Aikido. That was great for
fitness, meditation and de-stressing. I began to understand that
practicing martial arts has a lot to do with respect for oneself, for
others, for the philosophy and spiritual elements on which they're based.
The Dojo wasn't particularly Asian, though of course martial arts
originated in the East. The dojo was a melting pot -- a mini-United
Nations. My fellow Aikdo practitioners were all about doing something
positive, and the multicultural camaraderie was fantastic.

As a muscular, 225 pound, six-foot tall black man, some might consider me
a little intimidating. However, as a generally peaceful person, the last
thing I want to do is physically harm someone. Aikido has shown me that
I don't have to strike anyone, or hurt anybody -- even if someone confronts
me. I learned to control most situations safely with Aikodo, and to
control them non-violently. Now, as a practicing medical doctor, the
philosophy and discipline of martial arts run like thread stitched through
every part of my life. I am better at handling stress, finding release,
going around fraught situations to avoid confrontation. I think martial
arts help me be a better father, a better physician, and better person in
my relations with others. What I learned from martial arts will always be
with me -- to follow the most peaceful path. For me a martial art is not
just an activity, it is a way of life.