A Confession; Or Mixed Martial Artists and Hebrew Scholars

(x-posted at IndieFaith)
On occasion we run across blog entries that give us a glimpse of the all-too ordinary lives of the bloggers. The bloggers begin with some shame in their confession wondering if the few readers they have could possibly respect them after such a confession. Perhaps it is professor of sociology admitting they watch (and are addicted to) American’s Next Top Model or an admitted film snob confessing his guilty pleasures. Well anyway, with some hesitation here is my confession.

I grew up enjoying wrestling. I had two older sisters and so I never got many chances to wrestle growing up and so I watched the WWF or bush league AWA and wrestled with pillows in my basement. Now, fortunately, over time I drifted away from the wrestling entertainment business and in 1993 I came across something else. I am not sure if I heard about first or simply saw the VHS cover in a small corner store in my town that rented videos. It was called the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Royce Gracie getting the upper hand from the bottom
And for four seasons I watched fighters with backgrounds as diverse as boxing to Samoan Bone Crushing come together to test their skills. And for four seasons (except one due to dehydration) I watched the 165 pounder Royce Gracie beat them all.
In retrospect I see something actually quite beautiful in that convergence. It was a truly interdisciplinary step (though it was of course admitted that it favoured some). I lost track of UFC for years until this year. In our recent move we now get some channels that play some UFC matches. Things have changed. There are now time limits and rounds and they stand up the opponents if there is not enough ‘action’. The shift has moved away from free-style and is geared now towards a more ‘exciting’ fight. Plus nearly everyone is now trained in the style Gracie introduced.
This being said I started seeing previews for UFC 87 and got swept up by the hype. The day after the pay-per-view event I scoured the internet looking for highlights. I found my body tensed through each round and my emotions shifting from exhilaration to fear and concern. I witnessed respect and sportsmanship (among most). And heard the stories of those who left Wall Street to fight or how grew up homeless and found this as a way out. And highly anticipated the main event for the night the welterweight champion (and Canadian) George St. Pierre vs the scarper Jon Fitch (if you really want to you can see the fight here).
So anyway, what can I say I really enjoyed the fights. I do not translate this directly into a popular masculine spirituality. How do I justify or understand this expression? To be honest I am not sure. I actually find these matches more respectful than most other sports. In other sports there is always the temptation to ‘cheat’ in order to gain an advantage. In the UFC I believe the only rules are no biting, eye gauging, punches to the back of the head and groin shots (though they wear cups) and I have never seen someone try to use these things to there advantage. I don’t think these guys are saints, but I do think the nature of the sport allows for more ‘honest’ competition.
I suspect at bottom the allure of these competitions is the basic desire to be King of the Castle to be capable of some expression in which we are able to control our environment. In this way I can relate my interest in mixed martial arts to my interest in Hebrew in college and philosophical theology now. In college I held firmly that the Bible was the final authority on truth and practice and so in order to best control the play of interpretations I studied the biblical languages. In this way I could use this authority to legitimize or undermine interpretations (and thus control the playing field). This gave way to the study of hermeneutics and its role in philosophy. I began to think that there were philosophical assumptions that guided my interpretations and so I needed to master that field in order to remain in control. Our actions are almost always in the service of stability.
. . . Wait! This is supposed to be a confession! Only guilt and shame, no excuses! Anyone else? The pastor is in . . .

Comments (4)

  1. jurisnaturalist

    What’s wrong with taking joy in seeing a man do his job with outstanding skill and ability? Do we not appreciate a well crafted work of art? A well-designed car, or mp3 player, or computer?

  2. DavidD (Post author)

    No there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with it. The confession in part is realizing what is at least in part the attraction to this expression and then also who it relates to seemingly less ethically questionable practices.

    Although it should be said that we can be trained in and have outstanding skill and ability in practices that are horrific and so yes the expression itself does matter.

  3. DavidD (Post author)

    Sorry some bad grammar and spelling there . . . ahhh another confession :(

  4. somasoul

    Uh, Paul mentions boxing in one of his letters. If you have a problem with that then…………..I’ll punch you in the nuts.

    : )

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