Peace or Violence; What’s Your Choice?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
11 Oct 2009


According to a recent Justice Department report on ABC News, “1 million gang members belonging to more than 20,000 gangs were criminally active within all 50 states and the District of Columbia as of September 2008.”


That is a scary statistic that I think means that gangs outnumber our police in many cities. In this post I will try to take on a small slice of a huge problem in America (and probably the world over), is peace or violence a choice? If it is (and more to purview of this blog), how can one structure their lives to live the kind of life they want? If one wants a peaceful life, is there a martial arts solution?


Most people have already seen this shocking video about an honor student being beaten and killed in Chicago but I thought I’d open with a news story about this event to put these questions in the proper context of importance.



One point raised was that kids were seeing fights like this after school often. I saw another report where kids were taking buses through rival gang territories and praying for safe passage!

When I was a kid, we moved to San Diego but lived first in a house in National City. This was a poorer part of town and had lots of different cultures. For the first time in my life, I, as a white male of English, German, and Hungarian decent, was in the minority. I did not have too my problems as mostly kids dealt with each other on an individual basis but I witnessed my share of after school fights at that school.

At times it was kind of scary as I witnessed a large male bus driver trying to break up a fight and for his efforts, he got beat up. In another incident, I was asked by a teacher were a student was, and I pointed him out. Later I was accused of being a narc. I remember well being cornered in the boy’s locker room with the coach watching (powerless to do anything), getting the third degree from the kids that got in trouble. I impressed them with my ability to stick to my story and they left me alone.

I was never so happy to move to a new house after I had gotten mugged later. So here is my first question, why are some neighborhoods considered safe and other ones not so safe? They can be just 10 miles away but be a world of difference!

Later when I grew up I remember talking to people living in those tough neighborhoods and finding out at night they laid on their floors whenever they heard gun shots! These people had good jobs so I asked them why they did not move? They responded that all of the people they knew lived there and that’s where they owned their home.

How come some people are violent and others are peace loving? Here is a video I found about why some people are peacefule and others are violent. I’m not sure if this Dr. Prescott is on to something but it might help explain how we got here.


There were a lot of interesting ideas put forth by Dr. Prescott here. For one that I think we already knew, violence in childhood is the beginning of a life long cycle that is hard to break. I’m not forgiving criminal behavior but just trying to understand how to break the cycle.

Dr. Prescott’s other ideas about how pleasure helps curb violence (his inverse relationship theory) makes some sense but I don’t see any real hope of this getting instituted in our prisons anytime soon.

Our prison population is very worrisome because generally speaking, a small number of criminals are responsible for a large percentage of crimes. If we are not trying to “fix” the problem, how are we going to come out of this cycle?

While researching this topic I found a video about a Peace Day. I had never heard of it but it sounded more like a truce day to me. I guess the idea would not hurt but I don’t see how other than by raising awareness, that this has a chance to make a real difference. But here is the video for your perusal.

I guess as a person that believes in peace, I’m going to have to try and remember this next year. But if there is not a solution for the larger issue of peace and violence, what about your own personal choice?

Is there a martial arts solution for peace? I just reviewed Urban Samurai’s eBook, “Street Smart” where he mentioned (paraphrasing) if you want to avoid violence, stop thinking about it. These are powerful words because our minds are incredibly powerful. We can create our own destiny if we choose.

So the question is how can we apply martial arts to solving our issue of trying to stay safe in an ever increasing violent world? One answer might be expanding the use of the principal of Critical Distance! What is that? Critical distance is the concept of putting distance between you and your opponent. A safe zone if you will.

Do you remember me mentioning that a safer neighborhood was a mere 10 miles away? Using the martial arts concept of critical distance, one can reduce the chances of getting attacked. I mean put your priorities in order and move if you have to. But what if you cannot afford to more? You might co-opt a move with a roommate or move farther away where rents/home prices are cheaper.

But what if your town is marginally safe? One method employed is to set up a neighborhood watch program where you live. Yes this means citizens getting involved and cooperating with the police for eachothers’ mutual benefit! Police will have a better understanding of the dynamics of a neighborhood and the residents will have a better view of this “neighborhood policing” model.

What if just watching out for one another is not enough? Well some martial artists have banded together for a more proactive approach. Watch the Gardian Angels video.

Some people have labeled the Guardian Angels as a vigilante organization but I would submit to you in some instances, a more proactive approach is needed.

So is peace or violence a choice? My answer is yes! You have to power to put yourself into whatever situation you want. While I will grant you it is very sad in inner-city life that there is more violence there and the police are overwhelmed in many instances. People can take steps through community organizations to make life better, set up patrols with volunteer organizations such as the Guardian Angels or just move away.

I want to tell you that if life in my neighborhood was dangerous to me or my family, the first thing I would do is move, whether or not I could afford it. I would gladly lose everything to keep my family safe. Perhaps this is because I know what it is like to be safe?

Failing this I would fully endourse that people take reasonable steps to make their neighboor safe even if this is just a neighboorhood watch program.

Until the day that we have a peaceful world existance, people will have to take responsibility to make the choice for peace or violence for themselves.

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5 Responses to “Peace or Violence; What’s Your Choice?”

  1. Bob Patterson Says:

    I majored in criminal justice and worked for a total of fours years in two different Nebraska prisons. This was 10 years ago. Bear in mind that these were not the notorious prisons you hear about on TV and they were still messed up!

    There’s a theme one of my old CJ professors would talk about: “Not in my backyard syndrome.” Basically, that people (even good people!) do not want to think about prisons, crime, or poverty. The problem is that poor inner city neighborhoods generate crime. It’s really one of they few options they have. Education is just not high on their list of things to do because it’s not part of their culture. Near the end of my four years I started to see families cycle through prison. It’s really just sad.

    Part of “not in my backyard” is not wanting to pay for rehabilitation. Again a lot of problems here: 1) Historically prisons swing from punishment to rehab. 2) If you release the same (or worse!) criminal back to his neighborhood with no money, no training, and no job prospects how long do you think it will be before they turn to crime again? Yet nobody want’s to pay to fix the problem so the cycle continues.

    I’m glad I don’t work in a prison any more.
    .-= Bob Patterson´s last blog ..Review of Martin’s “Street Smart” =-.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Bob, I was one of them on the punishment bandwagon. The issues seemed simple in California, on the 3rd strike you are out! But now years later (with full to the brim prisons) and a lot of mismanagement, California is going broke, partially because of overly simplistic thinking like this.

    I think it is good to get crooks off of the street but I don’t see the point in training them to be better crooks in our jails and prisons. I think for lifer’s, punishment makes sense but rehab ought to be the way to go for everyone else because they are going to get out someday and hopefully try and contribute to society.

    As you say the mood of the people go between rehab and punishment… because of the (short-sighted) concerns of the legislators, governor, and people (especially in California where we have the initiative process to put stuff on the ballot).

    I really wish there was a solution to this because as a martial artist – most of the reason I’ve been training is to help people (and myself) be safe from criminals.

    It was kind of funny in the video where Canada prison population was said to be 20,000 something… in America we probably have millions in prison. It is really sad we have lost generations of potentially good people… the less violent ones I think we should be doing a lot more.

    Thanks for your insightful comment Bob

  3. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    Wow! This is heavy stuff and there unfortunately
    no easy and quick solutions.
    I guess the cycle has be broken somehow.
    Kids have to get education they can us in real life,
    taught how to build their self-esteem, discipline and a feeling of belonging to someone or something among other things…
    That’s where I believe gangs fill a void (unfortunately!)
    I am no expert, but I think I read somewhere about the
    U.S. prison population being at around 1 percent of
    the total population which would about 3 million!
    And I am happy for Bob not working in a prison anymore.
    Interesting article should definitely hit a nerve, John.

  4. Matt "Ikigai" Says:

    Yea this one is extremely complex. Violence is such an integrated part of culture, especially gang culture. Crime will never stop, that’s just a reality, but if the focus of gang energies could be redirected toward something other than killing one another we might be able to see a bit of change.

    Sadly, gang warfare fulfills a lot of those base instincts we have as humans – territory, dominance, social acceptance, heirarchy, challenge, and reward.
    .-= Matt “Ikigai”´s last blog ..Interview: Forrest Morgan, Author “Living the Martial Way” (Part 2) =-.

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi, thanks for the information – yeah three million sounds about right and sad.

    Hi Matt, You are right about the basic instincts, how we react to it is what I’d like to see change. For instance, a kid that did not grow up around gratuitous violence might verbally rebuke someone infringing on his turf where as the gang member would favor looking good for his gang. Sad to see this but I think you are on to something with redirection.