“Acknowledging fear is not a cause for depression or discouragement. Because we possess such fear, we are also potentially entitled to experience fearlessness. True fearlessness is not the reduction of fear, but going beyond fear.” – Chögyam Trungpa
I have been reflecting recently on the level of fear in our culture and what I would call a cultural addiction to safety in this country. I notice how safety and the pressing need to be safe are an obsession for a lot of people.
When I come home from having traveled overseas, the biggest question I get is, “But is it safe to do that/go there?” As a motorcycle rider, I’ve been lectured countless times about how I shouldn’t ride a motorcycle because it’s not safe, or I should trade it in for a scooter because a scooter is supposedly safer.
As a gun owner and student of weaponcraft, it’s clear to me that much of the discomfort that people have with my possession and use of firearms has to do with the fact that guns are not considered “safe.” I’ve encountered that discomfort from people on every side of the political spectrum.
There is also the problem of conflation. If I do or own a dangerous thing, I become a dangerous person in the minds of many and am treated accordingly. Clearly, I somehow missed the memo about how the most important thing in modern life is to be safe. I must be a little unhinged, or close to a precipice, if I actively engage in something that involves risk or danger.
To these people, I must not know any better. I must need to be told that which I clearly do not understand, that there is no need for Dangerous Things in this world. It’s simply barbaric. We live in the first world, and the biggest problem I should have is choosing where I want to buy my organic, fair-trade, cruelty-free coffee.
My interest in guns is an aberration, along with my love for motorcycles or my penchant for bringing home suitcases full of random bags of Vietnamese coffee that contain nothing about their origins on the packaging.
What I notice, when these conversations unfold, is how similar they are to conversations I’ve had many times with addicts about their substance use. Addicts have told me over and over that the primary reason they use whatever they use — whether it’s coke, meth, heroin, alcohol, prescription opiates, or weed — is mainly to avoid two things: fear and pain.
The drug of choice is not as relevant as the commonality of the attempt to numb and deny the various perceived threats to feeling afraid and uncomfortable.
Note that I use the word “perceived,” because when we work through it, it turns out that most of those fears are not based on real occurrences. They are “what-ifs.” They may be things that have happened in the past and are long over. They may be negative fantasies based on television and media.
There are a lot of places that fear can arise in a 24/7 media culture that never, ever runs stories like, “In this beautiful town in Wyoming today, nothing bad happened. Kids played with dogs, gardens grew, and Mr. Jackson down the street found a baby possum hiding in his rosemary bush.”
Many people in this country are steeped in fear, even though this is a much safer place than most others in the world. Paranoia is actually a fairly common trait in human beings and, to a point, it helps you survive. After all, the slightly more alert/wary person will more quickly avoid the speeding car or the vicious dog than someone who’s perpetually in condition white.
But at what point are we being played? At what point is our fear being used against us in order to create false realities that take us down rabbit holes? At what point are we taking our hands off the steering wheel rather than thinking our own thoughts and making our own decisions?
Within this cultural matrix, I am training as a gunfighter. That’s the term my teacher uses and the driving force behind an expensive ammo habit, an expensive range membership, and expensive training courses.
The fact of the matter is, I’m training in the art of war in the same way someone would train in sword fighting, martial arts, and the like. Although I originally came to guns in the interest of self defense, as many women do, I am quite aware that as I have developed, much of the training I have pursued is not purely defensive in nature, particularly when it comes to rifle training.
In many of these courses, next to LEOs and military personnel, you’re training in skills that equip you to not only retreat but pursue. That’s the truth and it’s not one I am afraid to acknowledge. My ongoing training includes not only hard work on my marksmanship, but courses that require me to move, practice gun-handling skills, react to the unpredictable, and perform under stress.
I refuse to hide or soften the fact that I own and use guns to learn tactical techniques. I’m not apologetic about this, and I am fully aware that it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
Discomfort is not the end of the world. Being afraid of something is not the end of the world. Not understanding something is not the end of the world. If you let your fear stop you from understanding things, you will live in a very small world indeed, one where the only things you accept are those that promote your comfort and assuage your fears.
In the current culture in the United States, you can numb out all day long to a combination of things: TV, weed, porn, shopping, food, online dating, alcohol, drugs – you name it. You can have most of the poisons that kill your mind delivered right to your door or downloaded in the privacy of your home.
It doesn’t matter who you are or how you vote. The choice to check out is always available, always there, just a click away. It’s always ten degrees closer than facing yourself and your weaknesses and fears.
Training as a fighter, any kind of fighter, is the opposite of numbing out. It requires me to be constantly failing, constantly growing, constantly self-evaluating, constantly asking hard questions that don’t have easy answers.
The women of my mother’s country picked up rifles, organized into militias, trained, fought, and took prisoners in order to protect their villages and families. In Vietnam today there are still many images of women holding military rifles on calendars and posters. Perhaps that’s part of why all of this feels so natural to me. Who knows?
I think of fighting, and the right to fight, as a feminist issue. The right of a woman to take up arms to ensure her viable chances in this world. There are those who have chosen to conflate women’s rights with an entire soft-sell agenda of civilian disarmament. In my family, this would be the opposite of the power, strength and grace that women are revered for.
I sometimes have to point out that imposing the view of women as constant victims is the opposite of putting our hands on the steering wheel and finding our ability to fight, and is the product of one particular subculture. Where I came from, women are seen as being able to nurture and fight. There’s not a dichotomy between the two, nor a false alignment of women’s rights with the idea that no one needs to protect themselves once everyone arrives in a state of magnificent un-attainable yogic kumbaya.
It’s a nice idea. I’m a peaceful person. I don’t go around being an aggressor. In fact, I heal people for a living. But I am also realistic about the brutality of human nature, the tendency toward selfishness, the consequences of unbridled narcissism and the rapid rise of that narcissism in our current time, the weakness of the human ego when influenced by unbridled power and adulation.
Were it not for these things, no one would need to fight. It simply wouldn’t be necessary. But as long as those things exist – and I believe they’re hard-wired into our survival mechanisms – there will need to be fighters in our world.
Weaponcraft requires me to constantly ask questions, examine myself, my intentionality and skills. It requires me to further the practice of self-restraint and self-discipline. The study and practice of gunfighting demands that I do my best to attain and maintain the maximum level of physical, emotional and mental fitness that I am capable of. It requires me to be humble in order to be taught, to endure embarrassment and having my weaknesses mirrored to me, and to practice steadily.
Self defense skills are a nice byproduct of this, but they’re a byproduct. Just as if I were studying kickboxing, the byproduct would be losing weight and getting in shape. That’s great, but it’s not my primary reason anymore for doing this. No one who was only interested in self defense would have the kind of ammo habit I do or spend so much time at my local range.
I figure that as this path continues to unfold and I lose all the liberal, conservative, libertarian, independent, and un-defined political cards along the way, the point will come where I A) finally woman-up enough to join Jeff Gonzales’ Gunfighter Club and B) I’ll finally start sketching out designs for a line of fully-functional, field-tested tactical couture that looks so good it would make Ann Demeulemeester break a sweat.
See you at the range.