Courage

“Cowardice… is something a man does. What passes through his mind is his own affair.”

-Lord Moran

Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, The Last Temptation, remains wildly controversial. Black-listed by the Vatican shortly after publication in 1960, Kazantzakis took a number of significant liberties with the ‘official’ story of Christ, as told in the gospels. Judas is a very close friend; the only disciple with the strength of character to betray a Jesus who instructs him to do it. Agonising death on the cross has been revealed to Christ through a premonition as the will of God.

While we all know the story of the crucifixion, the raw facts have been obscured by accretions of sentimentality and tradition. The fundamental fact is that Christ was tortured to death. The ‘last temptation’ that Christ is subjected to after he has fainted is to use his powers to come down from the cross, avoid his suffering and live his life as a family man, forsaking both his ideals and the mission God has set for him.

Kickboxing, like all sports, is only a game. Never is this clearer than when watching little Thai kids playing at it after the grown-ups have left the ring. Rodney Hall and I have a running argument about sport; I think it is a form of performance art, while he disagrees. He says that it isn’t art because it doesn’t communicate anything. He believes ballet and dance is about as far as the definition can extend, because they are essentially languages and in their execution, they ‘speak’.

I personally extend the line further because the rules of a sport construct it; give it form from which technique is derived. Within that construct, the conduct of the athletes, the way they play, communicates values. This is why hundreds of thousands of Australians sit down in front of the box or pay for tickets to the rugby, or AFL, or the Olympic Games.

Sport is a pantomime in which the athletes carry the hopes of the spectators onto the field, into a metaphorical struggle which is black-and-white, good-versus-evil in a way life-as-lived is simply too complex to ever be. We need to see perseverance under pressure. We need to see fortitude in the face of failure. We need to see these things so we can carry them like candles against the vaguer shapes that haunt the theatre of our day-to-day lives.

Fighting sports are more potent again. The aggression is naked and aimed directly at the other athlete. Pain, injury and sometimes bloodshed are hard-up in the foreground. They are also individual sports, a factor which generates its own set of complexities. And more than any other sport, fighting is about courage. The ability to submit to pain, to sacrifice the body for an ideal, is what truly belies the contest.

The best example I can call to mind is Jerome Le Banner facing off against Semmy Schilt in the K1 World GP Final in 2007.  Le Banner is making a solid fist of it for the first two rounds, until Semmy catches him with a knee under the chin. By the time Jerome has richoeted off the ropes, the bell to end the round has gone.

Grateful of the minute for clearing his wits, Le Banner paces his corner. When the bell goes to start the next round, he emerges on a leg which is visibly unsteady at the knee. The camera angle is from the perspective of Jerome’s corner; his trainer leans into the ring, gesturing to Jerome with the towel, preparing to throw it. Jerome turns his back, hobbles forward and prepares to engage. As Semmy fires off his first salvo, you can actually see Jerome’s thigh skating around on a joint whose ligaments don’t seem to be doing anything at all; in fact, it looks like the leg is being held together by nothing other than the skin (5:21 in the youtube clip). Jerome’s corner throws in the towel and the referee waves off the fight. A disappointed Le Banner looks over his shoulder and grudgingly accepts the decision.

God, grant me some small measure of that man’s courage.

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