The deacon told me I was "turning away from God" when I remained steadfast in my desire to box, the implication being that emersion in the physical passions of the world was a step in the wrong direction.
A few years later a Pentecostal preacher told me that, by putting my energy into the fighting arts I was "walking with the Devil in the garden of Mammon."
But I ignored them, wanted only to discover the secret of keeping my lunch money, retaining my baseball cards, keeping my bike under my butt, and not having to kneel in an alley while I was tortured and forced to repeat hateful things about myself and my mother.
As it turned out I didn't have "the goods" to get far down the devilish path in Mammon's embrace and was left to continue the simple practice of self-defense, of retaining my tiny, fractional autonomy in the diseased streets of the moral septic tank known as Baltimore as I journeyed by night and light back and forth between laboring jobs and found myself the object of men's racial hatreds and material desires.
As I accelerated my simple desire to remain in possession of my wallet and my dignity by building deeper contacts in the fighting and martial arts fraternities, that are often at such odds with one another, I discovered that I was not the only Meat-Puppet dangling from unseen and uncaring strings, who was seeking his identity in combat arts. Interestingly, many of these men were not simply seeking to preserve and strengthen their identity as I was, but to find it.
There were the old boxers who wanted a way to maintain their boxing identity in another meaningful context.
There were the old karate and kung fu guys who saw nothing good in western war arts [most of them being Vietnam vets and men stationed in Korea on the 38 parallel waiting for Armageddon] and sought soul and solace in Asian-based martial arts.
There were the Gen-X dystopians looking to reacquire some ancient art out of their ancestral past...
Reading early on became an important part of this investigation into the truth in combat.
Then I met Doctor David Lumsden, who recruited me to coach for his highschool martial arts club, whose motto was, "seeking the truth in combat," and I understood, finally what I was doing all those years.
The deacon and the preacher had both offered me away to a glimpse beyond the narrow confines of my mortal misery through their respective hierarchies and formulas. These men had been convinced that I was punching a hole in the floor of my world fated to find nothing but the Devil and his beguiling passions. However, immediately discovering my slight physical gifts, I soon found that I had stumbled unwittingly upon a tool for circumnavigating the tangled world of moral constructs contrived to manage my yearning for enlightenment into a contentment with its opposite. For the journey into combat for the ungifted is one of severe, soul-searing discipline, a transformative experience that shatters stiffly held lies told by the armchair warriors. As I began to think of the puppet strings I had been warned of as tools that I might yank upon in quest for an overriding or undermining effect, life changed. I now think of my boxing, stick-fighting and dueling experience, and the mostly stillborn encounters of the violent kind on the streets of Baltimore, as a learning ladder, an experiential basis from which to mine more from the books I've read since boyhood, books that have often been written above my head and have needed revisiting.
I have met and corresponded with military veterans who have embraced paths similar and dissimilar, sometimes embracing their forefather's traditions anew, sometimes reaching beyond the cultural divides to something that speaks to them true, including Ron West, whose Vietnam experience eventually drove him into the spiritual realm of the Blackfoot Warrior tradition.
I have often wondered who my guiding light was in mining the subtext of my own experience and have always come to the same conclusion: Robert E. Howard, 30-year-old suicide of the roaring 20s and Depression Era Texas. Howard wrote of heroes who remained ferociously true to the spirit of their code, whether it was racial or religious, experientially personal or radically masculine. With the exception of Esau Cairn, whose story was possibly completed posthumously by his editor, Howard never showed the final act in the ferocious lives of these doomed heroes, all of them set before the brutal backdrop of a passing age. It was enough that Howard's heroes fought, and one gathered that it was in this context where they and their writer found their understanding of God.
In my attempt to plumb the depths of the Indo-European martial experience, Howard has been a companionably insightful muse. But something more was needed, a guide of a more explicit kind, a mind which understood war from a metaphysical perspective, not a mind such as Howard's and mine which sought the metaphysical through immersion in the culture of combat. Something about this aspect of the journey left Joseph Campbell somewhat downslope and behind.
Then I read Metaphysics of War: Battle, Victory and Death in the World of Tradition by Julius Evola and found my guide for threading the fibers of history I wished to write through the eye of that transcendent needle which can only be glimpsed in passing.
The reading for A Dread Grace has taken over a year, and having found an illumination of the mythic sources I have sought in Gilgamesh, Achilles, Odysseus, Roland and Beowulf, I shall precede with the matter, subject by subject, as soon as I review Metaphysics of War, which shall serve as my guidebook for the higher elements of this story than those set forth in the introduction.