Monday, April 14, 2008

Fight Club

OK, so Dinah inspired me with her "You're The Psychiatrist...." post. She does do this fairly regularly. She stumbled into an Ultimate Fighting event and came out wondering, "Why do people do this?"

I'll tell you why. I have some experience with fighters, both as a psychiatrist who works with violent people and as someone who has hung around black belts for about twenty years.

It's about competition, it's about adrenaline and excitement, it's about taking risks and not being afraid of the consequences. (I'm tempted to say 'it's a guy thing', but besides being a sexist comment it would also happen to be an untrue statement. At some of the martial arts competitions I've been to I can tell you there are a substantial number of women competing nowadays. And you should see their tattoos!) So it's a sport, although I have to say there's sometimes a fine blurred line between a sport and a crime. If there are rules, if there's a professional organization sponsoring the event, if you have to pay to get in and you get some kind of formal training, then it's a sport.

Then there are crimes. People who fight---without rules and without sports equipment----sometimes do it because they enjoy it. It releases tension, gets rid of pent up emotion, and sometimes it settles problems (whether it's a good way to settle problems is obviously a whole different question). Among prisoners the challenge is to see how "good" you are at it or to establish dominance and defend your turf. It's to enforce gang rules or to punish rulebreakers. Among the younger inmates (also called "hoppers" in prison slang, after hip-hop) the idea is that fighting is protective; by being willing to 'step out' you'll be less vulnerable and it will keep people away from you. Younger inmates also will prove themselves by going up against much bigger prisoners or correctional officers. (The much bigger, more experienced correctional officers can usually see this coming and can 'talk them down' or persuade them that it's really not a good thing to do.)

So that's what my experience has been and what I can say about the motivation of fighters. Street fighters eventually grow up or burn out. They figure out they won't always be the biggest baddest person on the block and that injuries accumulate over time. Then there's the rare person who never figures it out, and they stay locked up. One prisoner I met had been in a coma for several weeks as result of a street fight. I asked him what he had learned from the experience. His response:

"Next time I bring a gun."



Anonymous said...

I am substitute teaching in high school "special education" which is whole classrooms of kids who are smart enough to learn but who have underachieved as a result of emotional problems or mental illness. Most of the students have behavioral problems. We had a discussion in the class one day about "bully" behavior and fighting and it became obvious that I was dealing with a classroom of kids who for the most part have functioned as bullies. Their perspective is that either you are the bully or you are the victim and they are not going to be the victim. They think it's the victim's "fault" if the victim does not fight back ...and win. I did a poll by show of hands and 100% of these kids were prepared to fight. I do NOT see it as "fun" for these kids though, but what they perceive that they MUST do to survive and to not be a victim.

ClinkShrink said...

TP: That's exactly the way some of my inmate patients think. It's like they have an 'on-off' switch when it comes to fighting but have never learned the middle ground of conflict negotiation.

And given that our school system recently made CNN with a videotaped teacher beating, teachers have my sincere support and concern.

Sarebear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dinah said...

Thanks, Clink, you inspire me too.

TP: a sad state of the world.

Anonymous said...

I DID have a conversation with my class about conflict resolution. The "health" book has a section on conflict resolution and we went through that together as a class, but I felt that they were uniformly unconvinced. They had all had the experience of being brought into the vice principal's office to sit face to face with another kid that they had a physical fight with. They felt that in these situations talking had accomplished nothing and the hatred ran just as deep afterwards. As a result, we ended our session with little accomplished, I felt.

Perhaps when I have been through teacher ed and have a classroom of my own I will find a way to have the students actually work through the steps rather than talk about it.

In a different class, last week I was assisting a math teacher. This guy is nerdy and a hard grader and is uniformly disliked. One student was having a confrontation with the teacher and from across the room I saw the student step up right in front of the teacher until he was a couple inches from the teacher. Another student hopped out of his seat and flanked the teacher on the right ... also almost touching the teacher and another closed in on the left. I thought the teacher was about to get beaten up in front of me and I ran across the classroom and shouted at the kids to back off and sit down. Thankfully they reluctantly backed off and I got them in their seats. A weak, disliked teacher is a sitting duck.

PS: MY psychiatrist told me to get out of that school and not go back. Good advice.

Anonymous said...

I loved full contact sparring when I took Martial Arts. I am a girl and no tattoos either. The first time I ko’ed a big guy it was so exciting.
In my experience nothing hurt when it happened. Maybe the day after you noticed you broke your toe, your nose was a bit off, or you had a huge bruise or a lump for a few months, but you don’t even notice at the time it happens.