What does it mean to be a man in the modern world?

I should just point out before you begin that the stuff about genetics is from “Y: The Descent of Men” by Steve Jones.

“This is your life and it is ending one second at a time” Fightclub

What does it mean to be a man in the modern world? Do men even have a place? Are men on a changing path and how long has this been happening?

01-coll-dna-knoll-l

DNA

Evolutionary speaking men are already a dead end. The added chromosome is an event that science knows is not going to survive into the far flung future. Geneticists all over the world know that eventually men will become something else or even disappear altogether. Women shall be the inheritors of the earth.

But why? Looking at the physical and behavioral characteristics of men shows that they are stronger and more aggressive than women. They have faster reactions and the ability to produce more power in their limbs. They have larger shoulders bigger hands and smaller hips. As my friend always reminds me they have canine teeth and a whole series of internal systems to enable them to do one thing better than women… fight.

10,000bc

10,000bc

Men are the ultimate competitor. They focus in on single confrontations far better then women. Behaviorally, they come from a line that only 10 generations ago would have had to hunt to survive. They would have had to kill to eat and fight to save them and their’s.

How has this behavior translated into the year 2005? Basically, very badly. Modern man (and by that I mean first world modern men such as an Englishman) no longer have to kill to eat. They have no need to be able to hunt or be able to fight off other men who no longer will try to steal their food. Men are civilised, urbane and docile. Still they carry their potential. Still they have their body systems and strength, but they have forgotten what it is like to fight. Men still die young, but they die less and less in battle.

So what? Well one consequence of this civilisation of men is the rise of “Total War”. The desires of the heart don’t just disappear. Men still have the urges in a true and physical way but they have no way of expressing them. Resentment and feelings of not fulfilling what it is to be a man are ever present amongst men.

But man is a clever creature and he has distilled the feelings born of hunting into activities that he can enjoy and remember when men were real-men, but at the same time be a part of the normal world.

We call these sports:

Rugby
Martial arts
Football
Wrestling
Fencing
Basketball
Airsoft

But what are the feelings and needs addressed by these sports? The truth is that they are many and not all addressed by any one sport. Many men spend years looking for activities that they can excel at and achieve release in.

For the purposes of this discussion take Airsoft.

DAs at Ground Zero national event 2007

DAs at Ground Zero national event 2007

In Airsoft man is recreating a battle. Both of wills, strategy and technique. But more than this Airsoft is a brotherhood. It is a team sport. Watching men play as a team in Airsoft could be directly transposed to the ancient world as a team of men fight to kill a mammoth or battle the next tribe for land. It is a very primeval urge and need that is satisfied.

Many men look up to their family members that fought and died for their country. Myself I always think of my grandfather who was a bomber pilot in the Second World War and fought in the desert. I have a book of the time that mentions his bravery (Wings over Olympus) and I grew up staring at his medals for valor (of which he had many). What am I to do to carry on his legacy? How can I fulfill that need?

Essentially I can’t. I can of course do the normal stuff of being a good man, marrying, raising kids, staying away from drugs, etc. But what battles do I have to fight? To quote Fightclub:

“Our lives have no great battle, no great depression. Our battle is a spiritual battle and our great depression is our lives”

These words ring true for many men. In fact the entire question raised and debated in the film Fightclub (as well as the reason that it is so inordinately popular amongst men) is the pondering of this question; what is man? Essentially then, men have a part of themselves that exist as potential but is often never realised.

When I play Airsoft skirmishing I loose myself in the moment, but I am not alone. My teammates loose themselves with me. Team Recoil consists of three permanent members. Sittupking and I have been friends for over 15 years now. He is my best friend and was the best man at my wedding. Trip is fast becoming like family in the short time I have known him. The upshot of this closeness is that we very rarely need to speak to each other whilst playing. We instinctively know what the other is going to do and how he will react. For example, at AG-05, Trip commented to me that we had just taken a doorway without saying a word to each other and automatically taken up the correct positions not crossed our movements at all. Similarly Sittupking covers my back and I his with no fear or conscious thought on my part. This is a very good feeling and addictive. It is a feeling if trust and understanding. It is a moment.

This moment of mental group focus is called Zanshin* by the Japanese. A good translation is “meditation in motion” and/or “being in the moment”. I have often felt Zanshin in Martial arts study (in fact it is a perquisite to black belt) and in my fencing. But consider that these are solo sports. Airsoft is Group Zanshin, and potent stuff capable of bringing people together and raising smiles on the most hackneyed gentlemen’s face.

So why not just play football?  Why guns and combat?

Firstly, all male dominated sports are an expression of past hunting behavior and combat. Anyone who thinks basketball is non violent needs to actually play some! The enhancer for this Zanshin is pressure. Airsoft hurts. Airsoft can really hurt. Especially if you are not playing well or as part of a functioning team. Airsoft is a very high pressure, high impact sport. It demands all sorts of awareness that do not exist in more mainstream sports. It is focused in on smaller teams working closer together. The more the pressure the better the feelings of Zanshin. Similarly, Airsoft requires gentlemanly conduct. Violence and cheating are almost universally hated by Airsoft players. Anyone cheating by not taking hits is often completely rejected by the group. As is anyone overly violent. Consider that, people are shooting each other and despite the looks of their equipment they are doing it non-violently. Very rarely do you see retaliation in Airsoft. Contrast that fact with the behavior of even the highest levels of football professional!

Secondly, most Airsoft people do play normal sports as well. Simple. Very few people have only Airsoft. I myself fence, paint, write and practice Taekwondo. I love to cook, read and visit my friends. Airsoft is a facet, not the whole. As the Buddha said, “All things in moderation”. This also means not denying oneself!

Thirdly and most importantly, Airsoft is also a collectors sport. Airsoft guns are techy’, nerdy and eminently collectable. Not to mention all the other equipment that goes along with it. There is a definite part of most, if not all men, that loves technical equipment that functions well. The endless question of “what am (is the) best gun?” This lends a whole structure to Airsoft, where a player is not just judged by his skills but also by his equipment. This means that Airsoft has an open social structure. A player can become “cooler” simply by having something particularly interesting or unusual. This gives rise to the “geardo” sub-culture of collecting the most expensive and realistic equipment.

As long as men feel disenfranchised in their lives, things like Airsoft and paintball will be needed. They perform a useful release mechanism for the players, not to mention the health benefits of running around and jumping over things. They allow for safe team play and the building of social structures whilst at the same time don’t require much in the way of investment by the person. Have gun and mask, will play. There is the almost infinite specialist and uniqueness of each and every Airsoft player’s load out and kit bag. There is also the gentlemanly way Airsoft has to be played.

In all these aspects Airsoft is good. But it is in the high expressions of Zanshin and brotherhood that really sets it apart. For this, Airsoft is truly great.

Basho

*Zanshin is used as a term all over the martial arts and does not translate well to English. To fully understand my take on it read “Meditation and the mind in modern martial arts”

2016-10-18T18:54:58+00:00

About the Author:

Bio: Philosopher, film maker, writer and IT expert. Occupation: IT Consultant, film-maker and writer. Interests: Debate, cooking, computer-gaming, reading, writing, videoing, martial arts, air­soft, movies, diving, skiing… (The list goes on — Basho is a philosopher and therefore into everything!)