The Warrior Returns: Using JKD Concepts to Heal
by Seward Clayton Worley
I stood there in disbelief. Was the war really over for me? The gymnasium filled with the roar of cheering families like a tidal wave pouring into a paper cup, but I still couldn?t believe I was home. I don?t think my little boy could either. He saw me through his toddler eyes, but was I for real or just another picture from Iraq? I didn?t know for sure how I would ease back into my regular life, but there had to be an answer somewhere. Perhaps I?d already found one.
I?ve been training in the martial arts since I was 12 years old. Until resigning my commission this year, I had been in the military since the age of 18. Both paths have been integral parts of my life and make up a large portion of who I am. The two sides have been fortunately harmonious. After all, being a martial artist helped me become a better soldier, and being a soldier enhanced me as a martial artist. Coming home from war in my early to mid 30s, I?ve learned that martial arts such as Jeet Kune Do (JKD) concepts can play a significant role in helping veterans like me re-integrate into society.
Why is successful re-integration so important? The fact is that war is inherently destructive on multiple levels, whether your army is victorious or not. Well after a given battle takes place, the combat inside a warrior may be just getting started.
A festering byproduct of warfare, not yet mastered by modern medicine, is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is certainly not a new phenomenon either. It is as old as war itself, regardless of the other names and phrases associated with it over time. It can affect troops of any size, shape, and level of strength (internal and external). Though I believe there are some forms of military training that certainly help one endure the potential impacts of warfare on the spirit, no school will make you immune?anymore than a martial art can make you bullet proof. Regardless of beret color, special skill qualification badge, or unit patch, troops are human beings, and they always have been. I?m not saying that one person cannot be more courageous than another. Really, being affected by PTSD has NOTHING to do with personal courage. In any case, to deny that there are sides of us susceptible to pain or intense, emotional impact is unwise.
When I think about what it?s like to endure battle, I often remember one of my great uncles, who served as a tank crewman under General George S. Patton. World War II?s European theater staged many harsh ordeals over the years of fighting, and the experiences remain with its dwindling veterans even today. Though my great uncle is no longer with us, I consider what it was like as his armor column was strafed by a German jet fighter for the very first time. A sleek machine with super speed, deafening sounds, and power unlike any that he or his crew had ever seen must have been especially disturbing for them. This is in addition to the fact that their lives were in immediate jeopardy. Traumatic events like this can put even the toughest crew in touch with its own mortality in a very frank manner. More difficult to fathom was having his crew attacked at another juncture by armed children, known as Hitler Youth. The forced showdown that ensued was not something my great uncle would describe. But the impact on him as a whole was apparent to us all. Some in my family have said that when he came home, my great uncle never drew a sober breath again. On the other side of the globe, though, other relatives of mine weren?t so lucky.
I had blood relatives die in the Bataan Death March at the hands of the Japanese war machine. On the other side of World War II, some of my in-laws dealt with traumatic events too. As citizens of Japan, they watched their own close relatives (who were non-combatants) crushed in front of them during Allied air raids over the mainland. This was a horrific experience for them, and it pains the survivors even today. But these are just some of the faces of wars past. To be sure, my toddler must learn their austere lessons and how they helped shape the future we know as the present. He will ask questions as he gets older, and some will involve my own combat experiences of course.
Will my son be in awe of the 140 land mines per square mile that we faced in Bosnia-Herzegovina? Knowing his heart today, he?ll likely tear up at the thought of a child I saw in Sarajevo, who was missing his legs below the knees. A victim of a mine, I saw him watch his friends play soccer from the confines of a wheelchair. I imagine he?s in his late teens by now, if he?s still alive.
What about the crash victims from the medical chopper, shot down in the vicinity of Al-Fallujah by an insidious enemy with no regard for the law of land warfare? Will my son ask me if I?m still angry about that?still furious that the insurgents are the kind of sinister characters that would pillage the patients, with some still dying on site?
What about misrepresentation of the military by some members of the news media? Despite all the great things that the Coalition Force does to rebuild the nation of Iraq, it twists my guts to see the micro-focus on negative events, especially when they?re taken out of context! There will be no simple answers to these and other questions my family will discuss. But my little boy will grow wiser because of the knowledge he gains, and should he choose the way of the warrior as I have, it is my hope that he is empowered by this special awareness. In contrast, America as a whole could use less time asking questions and some more time increasing its own awareness about critical impacts to those that defend its freedom with their lives.
Too many Americans have consciously discounted or have simply been unaware of PTSD?s reality. This is a dangerous trend, and it must be stopped. Education is the key to increasing America?s awareness, and martial arts like JKD concepts can help treat this malady for those affected by it. PTSD doesn?t just affect the troops, of course; it can have effects on potentially everyone that they come into contact with. Branches of military service like the U.S. Army have made great strides in recent years to put more focus on mitigating the risks of combat-related stress and treating those who are affected by it.
Having been deployed in harm?s way before, I knew going into OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM 1 that the martial arts could help my teammates and me network our stress between missions, keep fit, and sharpen our skills to repel the enemy. Using relaxed, lightning-quick JKD concept drills, we refined and fortified our overall health in almost every way. Staying loose while working through the intricate timing of the traps, kicks, and strikes, we developed better conscious and unconscious habits for our daily lives. War is never timely though.
I had personal plans for growth as a person and a martial artist. Those were put on hold when my country called me to duty, and rightly so. Training in the martial arts and teaching them were very helpful to me while I was away. Coming back home to live in a different town, take on different responsibilities at work, and help make our new house a home were just the beginning of some changes I faced. Finding a new instructor and a convenient place to train was another challenge. Starting over in a new style while holding fast to my beliefs in JKD concepts was still one more. Throw in a language barrier and it gets even more interesting. Some might say that?s life. But, it?s a lot of change to digest at once, having spent the last 12 months in the chaos of war?some 7300 miles away from home. Compared to the time spent away by World War II vets, it may seem brief. But, it was still tough, and coming home, there is no light switch to throw that will turn off how war affects you, much less how you feel about it.
Still, even as it was while I was gone, JKD concepts along with other martial methods continue giving me a constructive means to channel my energy each day. In every passing moment, the past is further behind, and I?m that much closer to where I want to be in terms of personal training goals and spiritual growth. Had I chosen to cope with the aftermath of war like one of my relatives, I?d likely have remained trapped in the past for the rest of my life: perpetually in pain until the release of death and the beginning of the life thereafter?forever free of war and other trials?but, at what cost? Instead, I?m letting JKD concepts and other martial arts that are well complemented by JKD concepts help lead me to the path of restoration in this life. See what they can do for you or someone you care about.
About Seward Clayton Worley:
Seward Clayton Worley is a former Army captain and Marine sergeant with 16 years of service that include combat tours in Iraq and peacekeeping tours in the Balkans. He has been awarded 27 federal decorations for achievement and service. With over 22 years in the martial arts, he has held a third degree black belt in tae kwon do since 1994 and a second degree black belt in karate since 1989. He also has teaching certifications in jiu-jitsu and Jeet Kune Do concepts. Mr. Worley remains active in the martial arts and currently lives in Austin, Texas. This is a companion piece to The Warrior Returns: Using Jeet Kune Do Concepts to Heal as Well as Combat in the MARCH APRIL 2006 issue of KUNG FU TAI CHI.