A Martial Artist’s View Of The Film: “A History of Violence”

If you’re a martial artist and you haven’t seen the movie, “A History of Violence,” you should.

In fact, I’m surprised it didn’t get more recognition at the Academy Awards.

There are lots of movies that have been commended to me to demonstrate various aspects of courage and positive values. Included are “Braveheart,” “The Last Samurai,” “Rob Roy,” and “Gladiator.”

But none of these really delves into the NECESSITY and INTIMACY of violence the way “History” does.

Tom Stall, the main character, owns a small café in an out of the way Indiana town. This is the type of place where you have to say “Hi” or “Hey” to people who pass by. I’ve lived in a very similar Hoosier haunt, and this film captures the ambiance very well.

One evening, two certified bad guys enter the café at closing time, and Stall tries to discourage them, but he relents and pours them coffee. The situation rapidly deteriorates, and Stall is the last man standing, having shown killing moves of which he wasn’t thought capable.

His response puts him on the evening news, seemingly everywhere. More bad guys descend on his café, intimidate his family, and put him in a “flight or fight” situation.

There is a central mystery in the film that I won’t discuss, because that would give away essentials of the plot.

But here are some of the key points I derive from this film that I believe are applicable to all martial artists:

(1) Some fights can’t be avoided. Be prepared for them, always, and do what you must, without hesitation or remorse. It’s “right to fight” more often than you might have been taught.

(2) A famous philosopher said, “Strength is the ultimate virtue.” Is it more important than love? Can love find a home without the strength needed to protect and to shelter it?

(3) Battles are often not between good and evil, but between extreme and lesser evils. They aren’t the same. A trace of virtue is better than none at all, and may be completely defensible.

(4) Personal transformation is possible and desirable, but the dead hand of the past will still reach out for us, so beware. Your past will find you, and no matter how you interpret it, today, others will have a competing vision that they’ll refuse to let go. We’ll always be confronted with who we were, or at least with whom others think we were.

I’ve seen this movie twice, and I’ll probably watch it another dozen times, getting more nuances with each viewing.

I believe it will be worth your time to watch it with some fellow martial artists. The physicality of it will get your attention, but long after, the issues it raises will truly impress you, and possibly change you.

And you’ll probably come away asking, “How much am I like Tom Stall?”

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