The Right Attitude Can Make A Wrong Situation Right

As I was riding the Bart train on Sunday, I was reminded of one of grand-master Lee’s writings that I hadn’t thought of in a while. this is called, “the right attitude can make a wrong situation right”. It is longer than most excerpts that I have posted in the past, but I thought it was a good start to our Monday morning. There are many lessons to be learned from this story. Feel free to post your thoughts to the comments section. Enjoy!

“I want to tell you a story that I heard many years ago. It’s about a man studying Aikido in Japan, but I will change the time and place to here in the Bay Area. I will also change the system from Aikido to Bok-Fu-Do.

A turning point in John Buckley’s life came one day on a Bart train in the downtown Walnut Creek area.

It was the middle of a warm spring afternoon, and the car was comparatively empty – a few housewives out shopping with their kids in tow, some old folks, a couple of bartenders on their day off poring over the racing form. As I sat in the car gazing absently out at the houses and hills. At one station, the doors opened and the drowsy afternoon was shattered by a man yelling at the top of his lungs. A string of loud, shocking, violent oaths filled the air. Just as the doors closed, the man,’[ still yelling, stumbled into our car. He was a big man, a drunk and exceedingly dirty laborer. His clothes were stiff with dried vomit, his hair matted and crusted with filth. His eyes were a bloodshot, neon red, and his face was apoplectic with hatred and rage. Screaming unintelligibly, he swung at the first person he saw- a woman holding a baby. The blow glanced off her shoulder, but sent her spinning across the car into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that the baby was unharmed. The couple jumped up and scampered towards the other end of he car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the aged grandmother. “You old fool,” he bellowed, “I’ll kick your butt!” He missed, and the old lady scuttled safely beyond his reach. Beside himself with rage, the drunk grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train rolled on, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.

I was still young, back then, and in pretty good shape. I stood 5’9”, weighed 155 pounds, and had been putting in a solid eight hours of Bok-Fu-Do training every day for the past three years. I was totally absorbed in Bok-Fu. I couldn’t practice enough. I particularly enjoyed the harder workouts, the ones with the bad college jocks where teeth pattered on the floor like hailstones. I thought I was tough. The trouble was, my skill was yet untried in actual combat. We were strictly enjoined from using Bok-Fu techniques in public, unless absolute necessity demanded the protection of the people. My teacher, Grand Master Richard Lee, the founder of Bok-Fu-Do, taught us every morning that Bok-Fu was nonviolent. “Bok-Fu,” he would say over and over, “is the art of reconciliation. To use it to enhance one’s ego, to dominate other people, is to betray totally the purpose for which it is practiced. Our mission is to resolve conflict, not to generate it.” I listened to Mr. Lee’s words, of course, and even went so far as to cross the street a few times to avoid groups of lounging street punks who might have provided a jolly brawl in which I might test my proficiency. In my daydreams, however, I longed for a legitimate situation where I could defend the innocent by wasting the guilty. Such a scene had now arisen. I was overjoyed. “My prayers have been answered,” I thought to myself as I got to my feet. “This…this…slob is drunk and mean and violent. He’s a threat to the public order, and he’ll hurt somebody if I don’t take him out. The need is real. MY ETHICAL LIGHT IS GREEN.”

Seeing me stand up, the drunk shot me a look of bleary inspection. “Aha!” he roared. “A twerp needs a lesson in manners!” I held onto the commuted strap overhead, feigning nonchalance, seemingly off-balance. I gave him a slow, insolent look of contemptuous dismissal. It burned into his sodden brain like an ember in wet sand. I’d take this turkey apart. He was big and mean, but he was drunk. I was big, but I was trained and cold sober. “You want a lesson, you jerk?” he bellowed. Saying nothing, I looked coolly back at him, then slowly pursed my lips and blew him a little kiss across the car. He gathered himself for his big rush at me. He’d never know what hit him.

A split-second before he moved, somebody else shouted, “Hey!” It was loud, ear-splitting almost, but I remember it had a strangely joyous, lilting quality to it – as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he had suddenly stumbled upon it. I wheeled to my left, the drunk spun to his right. We both stared at my teacher Mr. Lee. He was immaculate in his business suit. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.

“C’mere,” Mr. Lee said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly, and the big man followed as if on a string. The drunk was confused, but still belligerent. He planted his feet in front of Mr. Lee, and leaned threateningly toward him. “What the heck do you want, you old coot?” he roared above the noise of the train. The drunk now had his back to me. I watched his elbows, half cocked as though ready to punch. If they moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his tracks. Mr. Lee continued to beam at the laborer. There was not a trace of fear or resentment about him. “What have you been drinkin’?” he asked lightly, his eyes sparkling with interest.

“I’ve been drinking sake you dumb idiot,” the laborer declared loudly, “and what business is it of your?” “Oh, that’s wonderful,” Mr. Lee said with delight, “Absolutely wonderful! You see, I just love sake. Every night my wife and I (she’s 86, you know) we warm up a little bottle of sake and we take it out into the garden and we sit on the old bench that my grandfather’s student made for him. We watch the evening fade, and we look to see how our persimmon is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, you know, and we worry about whether it will recover from the freeze we had last winter. Persimmons do not do well after cold weather, although I must say ours has done rather better than expected, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. But, anyway, we take our little jug of sake and go out and enjoy the evening by our tree. Even when it rains!” he beamed up at the laborer, his eyes twinkling, happy to share the wonderful information.

As he struggled to follow the intricacies of the conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said when the old man finished, “I love sake too…” His voice trailed off.

“Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”

“No,” replied the laborer, shaking his head sadly. “I don’t got no wife.” He hung his head, and swayed silently with the motion of the train. And then, with surprising gentleness, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife,” he moaned rhythmically, “I don’t got no home, I don’t got no clothes, I don’t got no tools, I don’t got no money, and now I don’t got no place to sleep. I’m so ashamed of myself.” Tears rolled down the big man’s cheeks, a spasm of pure despair rippled through his body. Up above the baggage rack, a 4-color ad trumpeted the virtues of suburban luxury living. The irony was almost too much to bear. And all of a sudden I felt ashamed. I felt dirtier in my clean clothes and my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness than that laborer would ever be.

“My, my,” Mr. Lee clucked sympathetically, although his general delight appeared undiminished, “that is a very difficult predicament, indeed. Why don’t you sit down here and tell me about it?

Just then, the train arrived at my stop. The platform was packed, and the crowd surged into the car as soon as the doors opened. Maneuvering my way out, I turned my head for one last look. The laborer sprawled like a sock on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. Mr. Lee was looking down at him kindly, a beatific mixture of delight and compassion beaming from his eyes, one hand softly stroking the filthy, matted head.

As the train pulled away from the station, I sat on a bench and tried to re-live the experience. I saw that what I had been prepared to accomplish with bone and muscle had been accomplished with a smile and a few kind words. I recognized that I had seen Bok-Fu-Do used in action, and that the essence of it was reconciliation, as Mr. Lee had said. I felt dumb and brutal and gross. I knew I would have to practice with an entirely different spirit. And I knew it would be a long time before I could speak with knowledge about Bok-Fu-Do or the resolution of conflict.”


Warm Up:
2 times:
5 Hardbow/broken bow lunges
10 Push Ups
20 Horse Stance Squats
40 Mountain Climbers
80 Jump Rope Jumps

For Time:
6 Bok Fu Burpees
12 Box Jumps (or step ups)
24 Sit Ups with Cross Punches
6 Sit Ups with Cross Punches
12 Box Jumps (or step ups)
24 Bok Fu Burpees

Rest 1 minute
Repeat Series

Warm Down:
1 form in your belt tai ji style
5 minutes belt stretching for hamstrings