“If you believe in the power of words,
you can bring about physical changes in the universe.”
H. Scott Momaday
It’s a terrible and terrifying thing when an expertly-delivered punch or kick connects full force with the human body. It’s not contact of hand to skull or foot to rib that causes destruction and disruption, but rather the power that contact brings with it. Energy is explosively generated by healthy muscles. That energy is multiplied and compounded dozens of times over as muscle groups up and down the body synch together in perfect harmony with others up and down the body, to be transferred from one body to another in a single instant that carries effects that can last hours, days or even years.
I’ll say it again: it’s a terrible—and terrifying—thing.
And yet a martial artist works for years to deliver that power at will. We do it because along the way we develop stronger and healthier bodies. We learn to slow down time and silence noise when things get crazy stressful. We have fun engaging in controlled rough play with people we like and respect. But very importantly, we choose this physical and mental activity above others because we know it makes us and our loved ones safer. And that knowledge brings confidence and peace of mind. All good things. Yet, let’s not kid ourselves: we are developing in ourselves a power that can do devastating – even permanent – damage to another. Few people I know, and certain no person I would ever train, would take that power lightly or use it recklessly.
Not so, another kind of power that we all carry in ourselves: the destructive power of hurtful words. This is too often a force that a person can let loose on impulse, with little thought to its lasting effects. It’s something I’ve been talking about with our young warriors a lot lately, spurred by a couple of incidents that were related to me and which vividly brought to mind my own childhood experience (full disclosure: I was many times on both sides of the hurtful words equation). And it’s something we have to constantly remind ourselves, no matter how many decades we have under our belts.
Of course, there’s the opposite side of the coin, which I’ve also happily been discussing on the mat with our youngsters. It’s the power of kind words, and it is in almost all ways equal to the cruel things people say to each other.
The power of kind words also has a transformative effect. It can reverberate far beyond the moment in which it is deployed. Perhaps the only difference is that unlike cruel words, we never find ourselves wishing we can take a kind word back.