Sensei Kreese appeals to the primal need for power, aggression, and violence as a means to achieve personal power.
Cobra Kai, Sensei Laurence: “You’ve all learned to strike first. To be aggressive… and not be losers. I taught you to strike hard. To put every ounce of your power behind everything you do. But I haven’t taught you the third rule of Cobra Kai: No mercy. The older you get, the more you’re gonna learn… that life isn’t fair.
You wake up one morning feeling great, and then life throws a spinning heel kick to your balls and takes a big steaming shit in your mouth. You get an F on a test. You get suspended. You fall in love with a girl, but some other dude comes and steals her away. Your car gets set on fire.
You kick ass. You’re Cobra Kai.”
Johnny is beginning to transform his aggression towards others into a technique used to overcome life’s challenges. This is the right direction. Consider the true value and responsibility of personal power as it comes with your martial arts skills and your power to harm others within your own lives.
Lincoln reminds us that mercy can lead to growth. But what about justice? Humans have a visceral emotion of justice founded deep in our sense of fairness. We share that with our primate cousins. Tia Ghose, Senior Writer of Live Science describes how a new study shows, “In a classic test of fairness called the ultimatum game, apes will dole out an equitable share of their bananas — and when they don’t, their partners will complain.”
Fairness forms the basis of ethics and law. The guilty will be punished and fairness will be enforced. We celebrate superheroes as the means of balancing the equation between the oppressors and the oppressed. Marvel’s character the Punisher is admired. His white bullet-laden skull is flown as a flag of justified hyper-masculinity in the frame of might will make right.
I’m a long time fan of superheroes and specifically the Punisher not because he gets the bad guys to pay rather because he gets me to think. What does it cost him to exact his form of “justice”? He pays for revenge with his humanity while it costs his targets their lives. He trades aggression for the potential of a better future. His violence leads to more violence and he remains trapped in a forever war, a hell of his own making.
His ultra violence is an insanely exaggerated expression of seeking fairness. His fans cheer him on, reveling in watching the bad guys get their come-uppence while the man diminishes behind a prison of hatred. It leads to the question central to the character, how can he escape himself?
As a teacher of modern martial artists, I often encounter these revenge fantasies of young students seeking power to rebalance the fairness equation of their lives. What I endeavor to teach is that real power is the power to change one’s self and the world in a way that builds rather than destroys. We don’t change people for the better with our fists of fury. However, we can change circumstances when we open our fists and extend a hand to help those in need.
The greatest challenge comes to the young student who has developed the power to enforce fairness and must decide to use aggression or restraint, to seek revenge or forgiveness. This is something we all deal with in the relationships we have in our everyday lives.
The value of mercy comes from forgoing aggression in pursuit of what one is owed for the higher value of peace. The utility of peace frees the forgiver from an invisible prison, it requires sacrifice, commitment, and suffering in exchange for freedom, serenity, and the special qualities of peace that transform individuals, raise people up and build nations.
Mercy is much harder to dispense than justice or revenge. Mercy requires someone to transform the power to punish into the power to forgive. Watching this season of the Punisher lead me to conclude that a prosperous future grows from the fertile soil formed by forgiveness rather than the soil watered with the blood of one’s enemies.