Striking Thoughts

“Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not organically part of us, while self-esteem is derived from the potentialities and achievements of self. We are proud when we identify ourselves with an imaginary self, a leader, a holy cause, a collective body or possessions. There is fear and intolerance in pride; it is insensitive and uncompromising. The less promise and potentiality in the self, the more imperative is the need for pride. The core of pride is self-rejection.”

–Bruce Lee

I keep coming back to this quote.

Bruce Lee is one of my idols. He was one of my inspirations to begin training in martial arts, and later–more importantly–the example I followed when trying to rehab my back injury. I needed his example when I was going through physical therapy in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2012. Not just his wisdom, but his embodiment of the possibility of overcoming that kind of injury to become an even better martial artist than before.

Back in high school, I was studying Tang Soo Do, Moo Duk Kwan, Fook Chin Kenpo and Kung Fu with a very good teacher. We went as a school down to El Paso for a tournament which turned out to be enlightening in more ways than one. I won some, lost some, watched the rest, met my future favorite kickboxer Cliff Magic Thomas and got his autograph. It was a good time.

When I was paying my dues the next week, one of the higher ranking students commented on some of the women we had seen at the tournament and expressed some dismay that several were dating black guys. “Do you believe in that?” he asked. “Believe in what?” was my thought at the time. That was when I started feeling like I didn’t want to be around that school anymore.

That experience has been repeated at times whenever I’ve come across someone that is prejudiced. I knew even back then that I did not want to associate with people who were like that. Many of the people I’ve distanced myself from were not necessarily raging bigots themselves, but they were all bigot adjacent in some way. They were either raised by racists or did associate with them and had their own attitudes warped by that xenophobic worldview.

The pride that Bruce Lee was talking about manifests itself in many ways in all of us, and in our society. I used to try to persuade people when we disagreed, but I’ve long since given up on that. Some can’t be persuaded, even when they are as wrong as they can be. It’s the pride factor. Some of us can never admit when we are wrong. Some of us are so dependent on external approval–or in being a contrarian– that even when it is proven that we were incorrect, we can’t change. If you took away the flag, the church, the political party, what is left? At their core, some don’t have much else.

How does this happen? I wish I knew. But as Lee pointed out, it may be that there is not much promise or potentiality in them. Many of us don’t excel in anything. The sheer numbers of people who aren’t the smartest, strongest, fastest, or most skilled in any area of expertise is stunning to consider. Some of us then struggle with self-esteem vs. pride in the ways we go through life. Some blame convenient scapegoats for all of their problems.

If someone didn’t reason their way into whatever opinion they have of something, they can’t be reasoned out of it.

It is times like these that I’m grateful for the different perspectives and view of history I’ve been exposed to through studying Kung Fu and Capoeira. It is helpful to consider some of the problems of today through the lens of what we know of our predecessors in history. The Boxer Rebellion, and all the political strife of China in those days, the realities of the slave trade and the roots of Capoeira in Brazil. In the book Capoeira: Roots of the Dance Fight Game, there are many tales of Capoeiristas from the old days and the troubles they faced.

It was all the same back in those days. Rich people exploiting others for profit, peasants doing whatever they had to do in order to survive, etc. Racism, sexism, homophobia, superstition, all of it essentially just as we see today. The modern world has made many advancements, but we have yet to update our software. People who haven’t studied these things won’t see that much of the propaganda today is just recycled prejudice from an earlier age.

They won’t know that a number of slaves in Brazil once earned their freedom by fighting–and winning–a war for their former masters. The song “Paranue” tells a part of this story.

“Paranauê! Paranuê, Paraná                                   “Paranauê! Paranuê, Paraná                
vou mi bora desta terra                                             I am leaving this land
eu aqui não volto mais paraná                                  Here, I’ll never return, Paraná
“Paranauê! Paranuê, Paraná                                    “Paranauê! Paranuê, Paraná 
eu aqui não sou querido                                            Here I am not loved,
mas na minha terra sou , paraná”                            But in my Land I am, Paraná”

This is one of the examples I like to point to whenever someone mistakes the art for a dance. Those who made it through this war credited their survival to training in Capoeira.

This episode of history shows that it has real world applications as well as the games that are played in Capoeira. There are many interesting characters throughout the history of the art, Besouro is probably the most famous. He was known for locking the police in their jails and escaping his own arrest a time or two.

One of my favorite historical Capoeiristas is Joao Francisco dos Santos. More popularly known as Madame Sata, his drag persona. He was an illiterate son of former slaves, and gay. He was a skilled street fighter, and became something of a legend for his battles with the police. It is said that he often fought bare handed against police patrols of four officers who were armed with clubs and won. There is a Brazilian film entitled Madame Sata released in 2002 that tells this story.

We don’t know what Madame Sata’s pronouns would be, because they lived from 1900-1976. A generation or two before pronouns became a thing.

All this has happened before. It is not a Hollywood production. It is not a conspiracy, or an agenda that is being forced on anyone. Humanity has always been this messy and diverse. There have always been people who refuse to do anything but be true to themselves. There have always been petty tyrants and cowards who try to rabble rouse and turn communities against people who live their lives in the way they choose.

For many years, I never understood why anyone would side with petty tyrants. Now I think I see one of the original, primal reasons. As noted earlier, some people don’t have much inside them once you take away their flag, their church, or any other external association they have in their lives. These people don’t have much of an individual character of their own. They are threatened by those who do. For such people, conformity is their comfort zone. When that is disregarded by others, they feel challenged.

It will be a while yet before we evolve past this. I believe we will, and sooner than many may think.

This individual will be working for the freedom of all. Like any good Capoeirista would.