Extreme Violence Is About More Than Guns & Mental Illness

This week violence erupted with another shooting taking place on a college campus that reignited the ‘discussions’ on gun control and mental illness.  The passionate rhetoric made me stop and ask what has been studied on this subject.*   Of course, anyone that goes into a building fully armed and prepared to kill many other humans has a mental health issue.  Is it as simple though to assume that the issue is bipolar, schizophrenia or another psychotic issue?

Studies have been conducted that show that “fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness”;  in fact they are more likely to be the victim of violence.   When we talk about mental health, what we want to examine is, what other factors are likely leading to violent acts against even complete strangers?

The studies showed that the leading factors include “substance abuse, childhood maltreatment, and neighborhood disadvantage”.   However it was one of the other factors that really got my attention;  ANGER.   Those that were seen as having difficulty managing their anger were far more likely to be violent in the community.

There is no doubt that when there is a lack of hope and opportunity, when there is a lack of connection with others, the feelings of anger can arise.  If individuals do not have the skills and tools to manage their anger or if they have turned to substance abuse to mask their pain, the feelings and buildup of anger can easily erupt into violence.  However we should never talk ourselves into believing that because we provide well for our children, or we believe our kids are protected from  bad influences, that our children will never have issues with anger.

Anger does not need these extreme situations.  All that the emotion of anger needs to grow itself in anyone is feeling the fear of failure, fear of not being enough or not getting a need met.  It can come on a person as a part of grieving a death, or not feeling accepted by someone important to us.  Anger can be expressed with frustration or revenge, rebellion or hostility, sarcasm or spitefulness.  Sometimes it is expressed in violence against someone close to us or even on those that we do not know.

anger managementKnowing that the feelings of anger can fuel violence, every parent, teacher & student – every community, school and service organization must ask themselves, “What am I doing to be more peaceful?  How am I teaching the children in my sphere of influence to manage their anger and find peace?  What proactive steps am I taking to bring out the best in my children and myself?”

I would encourage every parent to examine the influences in their life and their children.  Are we surrounding ourselves with those who demonstrate the qualities we want to see in ourselves and our children?  At Balanced Life Skills  we recognize that anger management is self defense.  That is why we offer character education as a part of our program and Mr. Joe offers One on One lessons in anger management, helping children and parents bring out the best in themselves.


*If you would like to read in more detail the reports referenced in this post.

UC Berkeley Berkeley News


MacArthur Research Network on Mental Health and the Law


The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study


Martial Realism

This past week my class had a sparring session. These sessions take their toll– we spend the rest of the week dealing with the damage we’ve inflicted on each other. Personally, I had a bit of a headache from all the blows I didn’t quite block or dodge, and I sprained something in my hand in a bad punch, and a few other minor complaints. But the week of training reaffirmed my belief about the nature of martial arts in today’s world.

I personally fought two three minute rounds. I spent three and a half hours in a more-violent-than-usual environment, watching my classmate spar each other. That is a tiny fraction of my week, and an infinitely tinier fraction of my life. Someone who doesn’t train as I do might have an even smaller fraction of violence in their life. I think this ratio, violent life versus the rest of life, shows where our training priorities as martial artists should lie.

There are many martial artists that I have met who allow their training to interfere with their perspective on life. They spend so much time thinking about what happens in that tiny violent fraction that, first in their perception and then sometimes in their reality, that violent fraction swells. Violence fills their subjective reality, even if their objective reality is peaceful.

The day after we sparred, we got called away from the school to work on a silly performance thing (talk about a distasteful fraction of my life ;-p). But in the performance we were working with little 8-10 year olds. These kids were high-energy, full of curiosity about foreigners and eager to show off their elementary English and kungfu. Really, they were awesome. But with my head aching and my hand tender, and my annoyance at having to do the performance at all, I was immensely impatient with the little boys and girls. I couldn’t enjoy their exuberance at all.

But those kids represent reality. The 99.99% of my time that is not violent is about carrying on, connecting with people and together enjoying and celebrating life. So the most important part of my martial training is the discipline, emotional control, and inner balance that lets me put pain behind me and live a full life. And these skills apply to all kinds of situations– emotional pain, accidents, sickness, death–things that real life is full of far more than real life is full of violent physical confrontation.

Of course, some people face real violence on a day-to-day basis, something I truly know nothing about. But for those who, like me, train ourselves despite having been blessed with a peaceful life, we need to remember where the real treasure of the rich practice of martial arts truly lies.