Mercy vs The Punisher

Three of my favorite quotes about MERCY:
Karate Kid, Sensei Kreese: “You meet a man on the street he is your ENEMY! Strike First, strike hard, NO MERCY!”
Sensei Kreese appeals to the primal need for power, aggression, and violence as a means to achieve personal power.
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One day, we’re bound to evolve a better way of settling disputes.

In the new series Cobra Kai, the tenacious Sensei Laurence takes a more nuanced approach and re-frames the No Mercy philosophy of the domineering Sensei Kreese to one of perseverance.

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.

 Just when you think things are going good, everything falls apart. That’s how it goes. Life shows no mercy, so neither do we. We do whatever it takes to keep our heads above water. We do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. We do whatever it takes to win!
Remember who you are. You’re badass. You don’t give a shit.

    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.

—“I’ve always found that mercy bears richer fruit than strict justice.” Abraham Lincoln
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    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?


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Until he escapes his desire for revenge he will never know peace.  His war will continue to rage, his hell will continue to hold fast.  Humanity is in a similar situation but there is hope.  Even though wars still rage and they are big business for the merchants of death their frequency and scope continue to diminish.  In our personal lives, we too face the dilemma of re-active anger or restraint.  Resentment or forgiveness.  Punishment or mercy.

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.

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The power isn’t in using the fist, it’s in choosing not to use it.  True power is overcoming your primal emotions in order to break the cycle of anger, hatred, violence, and abuse. Teaching our youth that personal power is about developing compassion, forgiveness, and awareness despite the desire to harbor resentment or exact revenge.   Mercy is a suspension of justice.  It is forgiveness of a debt owed but not paid or even recognized.  So why should we value mercy and forgiveness? Why should we honor the merciful and the forgiving?
By honoring the merciful we honor their sacrifice. It is those who forgive that pay the debt of mercy.   They bear the weight of forgiveness.  It takes strength to forgive, to let go of hate, and to move beyond the evolutionary drive that pushes us towards aggression, dominance, and revenge.

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.

5 Fascinating Facts of Martial Arts History

5 Interesting Facts about the History of Martial Arts

The history of Martial Arts is a vast subject involving thousands of years of history and that may be the most interesting fact about Martial Arts itself.  For now, let’s take a brief look at some unique perspectives regarding the fascinating history of Martial Arts.

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Zen Kick by Theron Sturgess 2014


  1. Not all Martial Arts Traditions Originated in Asia 

    One of the first depictions of Martial Arts combat was found in Africa, during the 21st to 17th  centuries BCE (Middle Bronze Age) in the cemetery site of Beni Hasan in ancient Egypt. Those hieroglyphics are evidence of African codified methods of combat dating back at least 3,700. 

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    Hieroglyphics of Beni Hasan

  2. Mixed Martial Arts was one of the first Combat Sports
    in the Ancient Olympic Games
    Many people that think that MMA started in 1993 with the first UFC.  The history of MMA is much older.  Pankration (Greek No holds barred fighting that involved warriors that would strike, claw, bite, grapple, choke and or submit their opponents) has roots dating back to 440 BCE. 

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    Modern MMA has roots that date back over 2,600 years.

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    Pankration athletes fought gymnos (From the ancient Greek, meaning to train naked.)




  3. Much of what people think about Martial Arts comes from fiction, movies, and books that glorify knights, warriors, samurai, and fighting monks.
    Take Ninjas for example.  What we think of Ninjas derived from old Jedai (Japanese Samurai movies similar to Westerns) that took their cues from old plays where the evil spirits were manifested on stage by stagehands wearing black uniforms to blend into the shadows.Much of the shadow warrior myth comes from these old plays and movies and then became reborn in modern movies and T.V. The Shinobi, shadow warrior’s famous straight sword the Ninjago, and shuriken/throwing stars are cinematic creations that furthered the shadow warrior myth.

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    The Hollywood version of Ninja didn’t exist as dramatized.



    As with much legend and myth, there are shards and slices of history within the shattered patterns of an entertainment spectacle.  The truth of the ninja lives beyond a deep dive through history with few records lost in the mists of time.

    These tales have been passed down for centuries. Many teachers have exaggerated the myths and misconceptions of ancient practices, their own personal history, and the utility of certain techniques, traditions or training methods.


4. There are no new Martial Arts techniques.
New techniques aren’t invented, they are rediscovered.  The span of history and exploration of technique and their application in dueling, war, and sport for thousands of years indicates that people have been experimenting with a massive variety of techniques and methods.  Methods of challenging a warrior’s skills refine those skills through a filter similar to natural selection. The most successful methods survive and are passed on until the contest method changes. With new rules of engagement, old ways are reformed and adapted in an effort to secure a victory.

5. What makes modern martial arts unique is our interpretation of the past along with the application of the present.  The usefulness of practicing ancient combat technique isn’t limited to self-defense or sport as most people define it.  The usefulness emerges from the pursuit of personal and communal development through testing one’s ability to learn, persevere,  while facing and overcoming challenges. We all need self-defense every day. However, it’s not because we must engage in combat to safely navigate our way through our environment.  Martial Arts training in our modern world can help us combat fear, apathy, and toxic lifestyle choices. We must learn to fight the sedentary death of our spirit in the glow of our digital demons.  In the time following the Meiji period in Japan, a shift occurred from Bujitsu, Bu meaning War and Jitsu – technique, to Budo meaning  The Warrior’s Path, Do – path or way.

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In time, War-Craft shifted to the Warrior’s-Way.  Warriors approached the Monks in ancient times to make peace with death and to learn how to focus their mind in battle.  The monks taught them how to train their minds.  This fusion of mind and muscle emerged in several ancient traditions and is popular the world over in current times.  The Martial Way is a path that helps an individual develop the unity of mind and body along with humility, compassion and an appreciation of self=awareness.

In conclusion: The long history of Martial Arts reveals another interesting realization.  The fact that Martial Arts practice has such a long and diverse history is a testament to its usefulness.  The Warrior’s Way has been rediscovered, reformed and adapted to many cultures in many eras of human history.  Today, Martial Arts practice in the modern world can help the student to defeat the enemies of feeling inadequate, alone, worthless, or depressed by linking us to our primal past and showing us the promise of a stronger body and more peaceful mind.


The Way  by Theron Sturgess 2014

Incorporating the ancient warrior’s way in our modern lives helps us to learn to adapt and flow with the challenges of life. When life knocks a martial artist down they have already trained themselves to get back up, face their fear and persevere. Life is a journey and Martial Arts can help you to become safer, stronger and more aware along the way.

Theron Sturgess 2018


The Long Road of Mindfulness Practice

Our Minds can trick us into feeling trapped to walk the same road forever.  

RuralRoad.jpg Mindfulness practice reminds us to pay attention to our habits and routines.  Realize that even though you are familiar with the routine, every day is unique, every repetition exists in the now.

By paying attention you can free yourself from feeling stuck and realize that it’s never too late to choose a different path.

“There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” Led Zeppelin