I only recently started doing Mixed Martial Arts, but often times they will still have me spar. You get gloves and shin guards and go at it. Depending on who you’re fighting, they will lighten up their blows if you’re young, small, or inexperienced. I am very much the latter. I also get bloody noses relatively easy for whatever reason, but I don’t like stepping out so I just sniffed. By the third round, I was exhausted and tired. The blood was beginning to run down my throat, which was not only distracting but also upset my stomach. Due to whatever stupid sense of willpower I have, I kept on going. Of course, this is the round that I ended up standing across from the first guy I’ve seen that either didn’t know or didn’t care to go easy. I got hit in the stomach, the face, the legs, and the back, not full force but enough to hurt. As much as I tried, I couldn’t defend myself, never mind get a hit in.

After that class, I told my friend Ryan that I had just gotten decently beaten up. His only response was “Well, that’s your fault man.” I laughed a bit even though I was still in pain, but those words struck me. I hadn’t effectively defended myself. Even if it wasn’t exactly fair, in a full fight that would be the last thing that matters. You either beat up your opponent or you get beaten up, there really isn’t any middle ground.

This reminded me of a quote from Game of Thrones, a show I recently finished. Cersei Lannister said that “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” This show, as gruesome and awful the events can be sometimes, has affected me profoundly and in similar ways to MMA. In the show, there are various monarchies vying for the sole right to rule in every way you can think of. Good people die as often as evil ones. The biggest man with the quickest sword will live the longest then suddenly dies. The king decides who is right, but then the king dies and is replaced with a completely different set of what is just. Death is the only egalitarian ruler. In such a ruthless and chaotic paradigm, it seems that those who can hold their own are the only ones who survive, and even then nothing is sure. Justice is almost a forgotten ideal.

Oddly enough, I don’t see today’s world as much different, not anymore. I used to believe in turning the other cheek every time. Be the better person. I’ve gotten tired of being hit in the face. How can you hold your own if you won’t fight back for what is yours? In a discussion on this, I remember Sam asking me if this meant that I went by an eye for an eye. I don’t think I do, but the more I look the more I see that that is how the world works. AP exams are a bell curve. The top percentages in each class get to go to the best schools, or sometimes they get unlucky and don’t get into any of them. Two go into the ring and two sides go into battle, but only one comes out. Those are harsh, cruel facts, but they are reality. Sometimes you lose no matter how hard you fight. I don’t know where justice fits in. I don’t believe Joe did anything wrong. Ideally, Lark would have faced the death penalty, but then what’s the difference? What’s the difference between mob rule and personal vengeance? The end result was the same, and if on the off chance Mayla was never found he would have gotten off scot free.

I’m still lost on the whole thing. I still don’t believe in an eye for an eye, but I also don’t believe turning the other cheek. Every viewer can decide whether others are honorable or horrible, but we can never completely understand what is behind each action, so we have to take their actions at face value. In that case, justice is doled out based on who is across from you. If you can outsmart them, outmuscle them, or just get plain lucky, you get your way. If not, they get theirs. Joe got away with murder, at least in terms of the system that was supposed to condemn Lark, but Lark committed a much worse crime. Is that an eye for an eye, or is that protecting your own family? As far as I can tell, we just have to do the best we can. May the odds be ever in your favor.

*Joe and Lark refer to characters in The Round House by Louise Erdrich