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We have been indoctrinated into an ideology of modernity, and civility that claims that we are far better off than our brutish primitive ancestors. In order to be victors of these claims we are sold a narrative to hustle, to compete, to win at all costs, to conquer and take ownership of everything on this planet—because we have been told we are the superior intelligence. Everything, and everywhere we look, from what we are told to buy to make us happy, to the most popular sports we play and watch, is designed to bolster the above claims. 

As such, most people I encounter find it really hard to believe, even less accept, that much of their internal strife and suffering is largely due to their modern lifestyle. I once counted myself as one of these people. I bought into the search for happiness, and to advertise my success through material gain and wealth. But, as often is the case as I ticked off one more success box, the house in the right neighbourhood, the BMW, and so forth, the surge of happiness was short lived. To be honest, I never enjoyed most of that so called success anyway, I simply went along with it because that’s what you were expected to do (and especially if you wanted to fit in).

The truth is, the constant pursuit of material wealth, outdoing each other at any cost, competing for anything and everything, along with a loss of true connection to each other as technology pulls us further apart—is literally making us ill. Many mental health issues such as depression, suicide and anxiety so common today in the ‘civilised’ world were largely absent in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

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    All Is Not Lost

    However, all is not lost. Of course not everything is bad about modernity, but I believe to truly flourish we need to once again find balance and flow in our lives. Many people may not want to accept this, but in my view and experience it requires us to go back, to reconnect with and honour our ancestral lifeways. We can accomplish this by coming home to ancestral ways of reconnecting to nature, by advocating cooperation not competition, by leading only when we have something to offer and stepping aside when we don’t, by simplifying the way we live, by decluttering our minds, by being more fully present, honouring intuition, and living a life that doesn’t harm others (both human and non-human). Finally it can be accomplished by abiding in Anima Mundi, in the spirit of all things. The problem of course is that humans fear letting go of the known for the perceived unknown. The truth is we have become way to comfortable, domesticated human animals, who have lost both the knowledge and physical conditioning and skills to live under the night sky.

    Have We Truly Lost Our Human Animal, or Simply Let It Lie Dormant?

    What I have just suggested above we have always intuitively known—although it has been stifled by modernities relentless focus on rationality. We have been told that it is indeed irrational to let go of what is referred to as our ‘civilised ways’ in favour for what is said to be the uncivilised, the primitive. The capitalistic economic machine doesn’t want us to reawaken to our human animal because it would mean living out our birthright, as one with all that is.

    However if we are brave enough to allow a small opening for the call of our ancestors to once again reawaken within our hearts we can find a way of embodying our natural life flourishing intelligence.

    Contrary to what we have been indoctrinated to believe it is not natural for us to fight each other. We are not meant to compete against each other. We are not meant to have power over each other. The reality is we have never been the most intelligent species on this planet, as such we never had the right to conquer, consume or believe to own nature as we have.

    We are as Albert Einstein (I bet most never thought he would be the one saying this) notes:

    “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

    The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about two “hungers”. There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the stomach; but the Great Hunger, which is said to be the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning. I believe there is an inner revolution underway. More and more individuals are waking up to the lie of modernity that promised success and happiness. People have begun to realize that the answer to their fulfilment lie elsewhere and not in the modern world we know today or what it will become tomorrow. There’s a deep desire to return to a time where we needed little, and knew how to live a life of fulfilment—a time of minimalism, kinship, and connection to the land. More and more people are finding the courage to reject conformity and live a life on their own terms.

    Diogenes, ancient Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy taught that genuine freedom comes from within. Genuine freedom emerges from self-sufficiency rather than from wealth, power, or reputation. Genuine freedom does not arise from having as much as possible, but rather from needing as little as possible. The time has come to ‘unschool’ ourselves from the falsehood of happiness promised in modernity and in turn relearn and reawaken once again how to reconnect with the uncluttered, minimalist experience of being fully alive with ourselves. In short we need to ‘Riˈwīld’ ourselves!

    Walking down the busy city streets, I blend in among the crowd. I am about to give a presentation to an important group of people, and while my nervous system is engaging for the upcoming stressful event, with heart rate increasing, palms sweaty, and dry mouth, I have a secret weapon – I have the inner tools to bring myself back to calm. The presentation went extremely well, and I am off to the airport to catch my flight to my next destination.

    Landing at Manchester airport, I am met with chaos. A volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland has grounded virtually every flight. The lines of disgruntled passengers are already forming, tempers begin to flare as people realise no one is going anywhere. As I stand there watching the unfolding scene, I feel the frustration boil up inside me. But I have a secret weapon, I have a long practice of being present in difficult situations. Several hours later, I am told, “You won’t be flying out today.”

    Stranded in Manchester and unable to get back to Johannesburg, with insomnia as my friend, I roam the city streets at night. Turning down a quiet street corner, I witness a man aggressively pressing a woman up against a wall, hand lifted above his head about to strike. But I have a secret weapon, years of jiu-jitsu training has prepared me for this very moment. The aggressor never expected to find himself on the floor.

    Walking away from that incident, instead of feeling anger, I had a secret weapon, I have learned to let go of the fight, both external and internal. Resuming my walk, and as I entered the main street, I blend into the crowd, steady and well-ordered. When you see me, there’s nothing special about me that stands out. I am just another face among many. But I have a secret, I have done the ‘work.’

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      The 'Work'

      My ‘work’ has been ‘fierce’ and ‘original.’ My life has been an inner adventure, searching for the secrets to showing up in life with poise, focus and clarity. Looking at me, you wouldn’t know about the ‘work’ I have committed too. But it shows up in my actions. I decided a long time ago not to conform to the status quo. I was going to follow my own path, on my own terms.

      I survived government housing, and growing up poor. I survived government schooling, where the teachers told me I would never amount to anything. I survived severe bullying as a child. I survived an abusive alcoholic Mother. I survived being kicked out of the house at 17 and finding myself homeless, sleeping on the inner city streets. I survived the South Africa military. I survived seven years outside as a doorman outside some of Johannesburg toughest nightclubs. I survived an empty fridge, while I hustled to make my martial arts school a success. I survived having no support in all of this, but I figured it out as I went. In all of this, I was doing the inner ‘work’ so I could thrive.

      You see, the steady, well-ordered man that stands before you now, has done the ‘work’ that you have no idea exists. Gustave Flaubert a French novelist, who at his time was highly influential, and considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country noted: “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

What I take from Flaubert’s words is that the work is done often behind the curtains, and outside of the public eye. As each one of us comes to the work with our own unique life’s experience it is naturally original.

      Doing the inner work is never a smooth ride. It’s fierce, and requires ferocity to stay the course. It is to easy to slip into the status quo, and follow the crowd. To be truly self liberated one has to be willing to stand outside what is considered the norm, while being fiercely determined to stay the course of authenticity, while not becoming ensnared by the modern worlds definition of happiness. You know, that lie of the modern world that industrial civilisation, along with limitless economic growth, consumerism and material affluence is a pathway to prosperity and happiness.

      What Really Is The ‘Work’ Then?

      The work is being able to show up in the modern world, and have had done the fierce and original ‘work’ behind the scenes so as not to become a victim or slave to modernities pathologies. The West’s cultural values of competition at any cost, survival of the fittest, keeping up with the joneses, the endless hedonic treadmill, a focus on material wealth as a marker of success and so forth have contributed to a society that feels fragmented, anxious, stressed out, and suffering from a loss of meaning. We are, if we view it that way or not, cogs in an enormous market-based machine — a machine that care’s little for our humanity.

      While it is true, for most of us, that we cannot simply opt out of the modern world, we can however make a conscious decision on how we are going to play the game. This is where the fierce and original work comes in. The simplest way to do the work is to look around and see the most common struggles people are facing and find a way to do the opposite. 

      A Thought Experiment

      In an attempt to really get to the bottom of what is important, I offered a client the other day this thought experiment. Imagine for a moment we could be transported back to the time of our hunter gatherer ancestors. After we had insured the safety of our band, and had a successful hunt so there was enough food, sitting there what else would be important?


What would be occupying our ancestral minds? All of the things we fret over in the modern world, simply wouldn’t exist, except for what really mattered. We would have a deep connection to family, friends, and earth. Our days would be spent laughing, exploring, and looking up at the night sky with wonder. We would move with the seasons, and our mind would be a mirror of the beauty and awe of the landscape we inhabited. As Emma Goldman, an anarchist political activist argued about our modern life, “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?” Our ancestors on the other hand were connected to the uncluttered, minimalist embodied wisdom of the human animal and in doing so experienced a natural inner rhythm.

      I believe it is still possible, even as we live in the modern world to recapture that natural inner rhythm (although admittingly much tougher). This is the ‘work’ I do daily, and coach to others both individually and at my retreats. The ‘work’ is about being able to show in the modern world with all its uncertainty, chaos, and stress — steady, and well-ordered — in other words with poise, focus and calm.

      We often take words for granted. However, on closer inspection there meaning, especial there ‘root’ history can have profound influence in how we understand those words. For example, the word ‘human’ comes from the Latin word ‘humus,’ meaning earth or ground, whilst ‘animal,’ is based on Latin animalis ‘having breath’ from anima ‘breath.’ The human animal then, is one that emerges from the earth, breathed into life.


      We are therefore not separate from all other life on this planet. We are just another version of animal that occupies the same home. We are as activist and actor Ian Somerhalder suggests “ The environment is in us, not outside of us. The trees are our lungs, the rivers our bloodstream. We are all interconnected, and what you do to the environment, ultimately you do to yourself.”

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        We Have Forgotten Our Place

        We have forgotten, or should we say rather been indoctrinated to believe that being human is somehow far more special — or should we say we have a god like dominion over the Earth and all that live upon it. It is this lie of separation, or excommunication from the natural world by greedy capitalistic thinking that has laid baron and ecologically devastated our planet. We no longer view ourselves as part of the natural order, as co-inhabitants of this beautiful planet, but rather have been told to take ownership of it. People in the modern world, surrounded by skyscrapers believe this to be reality. How can we not think this, surrounded by our glorious manmade objects. On the face of it, it seems clear we do own this place — but we dont and never will!

We forget all to often that the human who arises from the earth, goes back to it. There is no escaping our end. We are short term visitors on an exquisite planet, that wont miss us when we are gone. In fact the planet really does not need us at all. If every human being disappeared tomorrow morning, the planet, Gaia, will continue on in our absence. Unlike the delicate ecosystems we are destroying at an alarming rate, where every insect, plant, microbe etc al., plays a vital role in the health of that system, we in fact really serve no purpose. The Earth doesn’t need us in order to flourish, but we need her.

        This is a sobering thought. 

In fact, we are food. We are being used as a source of life sustaining sustenance ourselves, every moment of our lives. As biologist Alanna Collen notes,


        “You are just 10% human. For every one of the cells that make up the vessel that you call your body, there are nine impostor cells hitching a ride. You are not just flesh and blood, muscle and bone, brain and skin, but also bacteria and fungi. Over your lifetime, you will carry the equivalent weight of five African elephants in microbes. You are not an individual but a colony.”


        We are so arrogant to believe that just because we are able to walk, talk, and reflect on ourselves, that this allows us dominion over what we perceive to be resources for our own survival. In turn we are strip-mining the earth until there’s nothing left for anyone. And if that’s not good enough, we ensure that we enslave our fellow man, kill him senselessly, abuse him, and hate him for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. I often joke with my partner that I want to sue the world. Am I not a citizen of this planet? Yet, we have to ask permission to go to other parts of the world. We think we are free, but we are in fact enslaved. 

Who enslaved us? 

We did it to ourselves.


        As Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk and peace activist so eloquently points out:


        “We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims. We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed.”

        Reclaiming Our Human Animal

        This is why I am adamant that we need to once again reclaim our human animal. We are part of this amazing planet, along with every single other organism, insect, plant, and fellow animal cousin by decent or otherwise.

        When I reflect on growing up, I have always felt out of place. I never quit fitted in. I still don’t. My happiest times as a child was when I was out alone in the African bush or practicing primal skills, from martial arts, to foraging. These experiences in the natural world were also my two sons most favourite times. It’s no coincidence either. Unwittingly we were re-embracing our natural animal human state. We where born to be apart of this world. We don’t own it. No one does. A Haidenosaunee teaching articulates this well, “We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”


        As Cultural historian Thomas Berry in The Dream of the Earth has argued,

        “We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual “autism.


        Or in the words of Albert Einstein,

        “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”


        We can only free ourselves from this tyranny of domestication in the modern world, and the illusion of separation from the natural world — by stripping away the conditioning it has burdened us with. We are clearly not happy. The self-help industry is larger than it has ever been. A new psychological tool comes out every other year to help us deal with our psychological suffering. New ‘happy’ drugs are being developed at an alarming pace. We plug into virtual reality via video games, to escape the current modern reality. The onslaught of mindfulness practices in all its guises are being shoved in our faces everywhere. Non of this would exist if we were happy.

        Modernity, with all its fanciful trappings, has made us ill. No amount of reading that next self help book, taking that next happy drug, or sitting quietly in a candle lit room — alone is going to ease our suffering. We are lost, and we have lost something really important, we know it, but we seem to be searching for it in all the wrong places.

        How To Reclaim What We Have Lost

        To be truly fulfilled requires reconnecting with the uncluttered, minimalist embodied wisdom of our ancestors, our human animal — and in doing so unlock our natural inner rhythm. It’s time to RIˈWILD! To Ri’Wild is to reverse the process of domestication and to return to a more wild or self-willed state.

        But as Paul Shepard in, The Only World We’ve Got realises, “ It is not necessary to ‘go back’ in time to be the kind of creature you are. The genes from the past have come forward to us. I am asking that people change not their genes but their society, in order to harmonise with the inheritance they already have.” Changing society is incredibly hard, but changing yourself, and how you show up in the world is possible.

        Ill be honest, even as I close-in on 50, I don’t have all the answers. As you have, I have been pulled by the allure of modernity, and cajoled into the human Zoo, and swayed down the path of domestication. I have fought against it all my life. But as we likely can all agree, when the world as a system works entirely one way, rallying against it is a difficult prospect. I therefore have done, and increasingly so what Paul Shepard noted earlier. Realising that until there is a mass sway in the direction back to sanity, all I can do for now is be a voice, and activist for the Human Animal. My boys fondly remember me telling them, “Boys we have to be awake and realize we live in the Matrix, but not to be owned by it”. While I readily recognize that I cannot go back to a time of my hunter gatherer ancestors, a time where by all accounts we suffered rarely as we do now in modernity, I am drawing strength from their ancestral knowledge so that I can optimise my life to fit into the modern constraints I face.

        This takes the form of recognising the spirit of Mother Earth, and to be humble within my place upon her. She has gifted me a space to call home, to live, and the opportunity to explore my full potential. While she would not miss me one bit if I was gone tomorrow, I do believe we are here to have an experience of what it means to be in flow with all of life. I often think of it as somewhat like training wheels for the next adventure when we leave this home. Based on how humans conduct themselves here, on this beautiful planet circling the sun, one could only imagine what the human species would end up destroying if they were immediately thrown into the universe as fully fledged citizens. Clearly, we need to go to ‘Earth Kindergarten’ first, before being allowed anywhere near the vastness of space.

        As such, I fill my days now with moments of deep connection, and reverence in nature. I try my utmost not to burden to Gaia, doing as a I can to lessen the load on her. I make a point to make all of my activities to honour the natural intelligence that I am. Rather than seeking outwardly for answers or happiness, I look inward, to what I have been given. By applying my breath in the correct way I can manage the flight and fight response of my nervous system. By steadying my mind, I can be at peace exactly where I am, rather than being consumed by self defeating thoughts. Through my martial art practice I am able to experience flow. Through my movement practice, not only can I connect to the natural world, but experience her in way that is not separate from myself, but connected.

        In all of the above, what stands out for me is simplicity. As I have written elsewhere, there was a time before the advent of agriculture, where our ancestors lived as part of the natural world, and while lacking all of what modernity offers us now, were happy. Happiness then, or what I prefer to call fulfilment isn’t complicated. The only reason it feels complicated, the only reason so many people are confused on how to achieve piece is mostly down to how we live now. As the anarchist political activist Emma Goldman points out “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?”

        I leave you with these thoughts from John Seed, founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia and the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. Should you want to explore Unlocking Your Instinct {Code} with fellow travellers, take a look at my yearly Retreats in Thailand. I hope you decide to come spend some time with us Re’Wilding.  

        “May we turn inwards and stumble upon our true roots in the intertwining biology of this exquisite planet. May nourishment and power pulse through these roots, and fierce determination to continue the billion-year dance.”
        - John Seed

        “Everything you see has its roots
        In the unseen world.
        The forms may change
        Yet the essence remains the same.
        Every wondrous sight will vanish,
        Every sweet word will fade,
        But do not be disheartened,
        The Source they come from is Eternal,
        Growing, branching out,
        Giving new life and new joy.
        Why do you weep?
        That Source is within you
        And this whole world
        Is springing up from it
        The Source is full,
        Its waters are ever-flowing;
        Do not grieve,
        Drink your fill!
        Don’t think it will ever run dry, This is the endless Ocean."
        - Rumi

        “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
        And right-doing there is a field.
        I'll meet you there.

        When the soul lies down in that grass
        The world is too full to talk about”

        ― Rumi

        Deep inside all of us resides what I call our natural rhythm, a healing rhythm that most of us have forgotten exists. We spend so much of our lives living outside of ourselves, that we have become disconnected from this natural rhythm.

        What is it?


        We are so afraid of being fully alone with ourselves that we fill our lives with endless distractions and activities, searching for fulfilment and wellbeing outside ourselves in wealth, success and power. We distract ourselves with TV, the internet, social media, and of course video games. It seems most people are doing absolutely everything to avoid themselves. In addition many people are afraid of silence because they are afraid of what they might find there — the proverbial skeletons in the closet. In prison for instance the worst kind of punishment is solitary confinement. People literally go insane when left to themselves. For many people silence, being surrounded by quiet activates their fight and flight response, creating a sense of anticipation or anxiety — an expectation that something is about to jump from behind the bushes.

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          The Cultivation of Deep Patience

          Inuit hunters have a word, ‘quinuituq,’ that means a deep patience needed while waiting for something to happen. Inviting silence into your life is a process of ‘quinuituq’ — being patient as we wait to find that which we have lost: our inner rhythm, our balance point. In other-words, finding inner rhythm and balance isn’t something we go out to find, but rather to allow it to reclaim us. This is counter to what our modern society has taught us. Modern society tells us: we need to hustle, we need to get out there and make our mark, success after all doesn’t come to those who wait. But yet, and again, so much of what modern society requires is a distancing from ourselves. Modern society draws out and leaves the best of us on the sacrificial alter of consumerism, until we no longer have a clue of who we are. Learning to be in silence, is in a way reclaiming what we have given up unknowingly thinking it will serve a greater purpose — when it never can — because modernity is built upon capitalistic cannibalism focused on its own selfish desire: profit.


          There is no ‘profit’ to anyone when you seek silence, outside of the unmeasurable bounty accrued to your own inner wellbeing. By coming home to silence you step out of the hedonistic treadmill. But, if that’s not convincing enough, here’s some research to back that up. Silence has shown to lower blood pressure, boost the body’s immune system and benefit brain chemistry by growing new cells. For example, Kirste et al. (2013) found that two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that is linked to learning, remembering, and emotions.


          Bernardi, et al. (2006) showed that as little as two minutes of silence can relieve tension in the body and brain. This is the opposite to what noise invokes which is to increase stress and tension in the body. Probably for most of us especially in the modern world who are constantly battling incessant noise pollution, is that time in silence allows the brain to ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. As Stephen Kaplan (1995) has noted, silence allows the brain to stand down from its sensory guard, allowing it to restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excessive noise.

          “Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

          How To Invite Silence into Your Life

          There is no right or wrong way to invite silence into your life, other that clearing a path for it to show up. By far the most profound moments of silence I have had in my life are walks out in nature. Walking alone, in silence, just with myself, and the natural world as my wonder is an invigorating experience. The key here is to leave all modern distractions behind, iPhone, EarPods, etc. 


          I have found it equally important throughout my walks in silence, to take a seat every now and then and simply observe. Sitting still with my eyes wide open, without having to make sense of what I hear, see and smell, brings me back to the natural rhythm I have spoken about in this article. That natural rhythm is that space between stimulus and response. It’s a place of creativity, inspiration, and awe.


          It takes practice of course to stay there. As was noted earlier, with so much of our lives lived outside ourselves, when we stop, breathe, and quiet down, we initially feel pulled: surely we should be doing something else? But given enough time, and practice, you will feel the call to silence echoing inside your soul.

          "Everything that's created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness." - Wayne Dyer

          I was 5-years old when the bullying started. In those days you were able to go straight into junior primary school in South Africa. But my Mother thought it best that I did at least one year at pre-school before heading to ‘big school’. I think she also felt I need the socialisation, because up until that point I had been staying at home with my grandmother while my mother went off to work. In reflection, I also realize now that things were financially tough, so my Grandmother had no choice but to find a part-time job herself.


          I am not sure why I was being bullied. Maybe it was because I was the new kid, with kids already having being together in pre-school for sometime and everyone had already made their little tribes and weren’t letting anyone else in. Who knows! 

As much as I tried to make friends, to fit in, it just wasn’t happening. I was subject to intense teasing, pushed around, tripped and so on. This mostly happened during recess when the teachers weren’t around to see. Anytime I went to sit with my lunch with the other kids they would get up and move, so I found myself alone, eating my cheese and ham sandwiches in the corner of the play ground.


          It become so bad, that eventually I escaped pre-school twice, hiding away until the recess bell had rung, then climbing onto the garbage bins, and jumped the wall. Luckily for me, the two times I did manage to escape my Grandmother was home, only to completely shocked opening the front door to find me standing there having walked the several miles to get home.

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            Things Didn't Change After That

            The rest of my childhood didn’t change much after that. All through junior and senior primary I was bullied, and into the first two years of high school, until I snapped, had had enough, and started fighting back. Fighting back became my life’s work. For two decades I immersed myself in violence, either having to apply it as a doorman outside some of Johannesburg toughest nightclubs, or teaching others how to do the same, from surviving the battlefield, to the inner city streets. 

I never had an aggressive streak as a child. I was quiet, creative, and just wanted to get along with everyone. Looking back however, it is clear to me now that environment informs behaviour, so that even a timid kid like me, can become someone skilled in using violence to gain the upper hand.


            Even as I write this, I am still someone who at my core disdains violence of any kind, its not in my true nature to be violent, but as I have also learned, when you are cornered by several thugs bent on smashing your skull in to the sidewalk, fighting back and winning is really the only solution.

            "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." - Isaac Asimov

            Why The Aggression?

            Pondering my observations above has left me awake at night. How much of the aggression we see in the modern world is just human nature, or how much of it is really a creation of the societies we live in? Have we always been an aggressive species, or is it mostly a byproduct of the environment we find ourselves in?


            Before I explore this further, I am constantly struck by our hypocrisy especially in the West (I count myself in this too). We largely as a society deplore violence, yet much of our most popular entertainment is violent, from movies, to the sports we play and watch. If two people get into a fist fight on the street corner, one if not both are going to jail, but if we do it in an Octagon it’s perfectly acceptable. Killing someone in suburbia who has a different worldview to you is a no-no, but if your government sends you to a foreign land, killing someone who has been classified as an ‘enemy’ then it’s perfectly fine. And the list goes on. I could be here all day highlighting all of the hypocrisy with violence and aggression we brush away in modernity. 

Hobbes in 1651 noted that life before the state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It was argued that when we still lived in small scale societies they were wracked by violence, disease, starvation, the constant threat of predation and natural disaster. In other words humans lived with no control over their lives or their environment. Every day supposedly was spent toiling just to survive, with barely no leisure time. There was simply no time to spend building a culture.


            However over the millennia, humans gradually developed the tools to start building civilisations. The major revolution in all of this advancement was the Neolithic Revolution, with the introduction of agriculture. Agriculture allowed us to shift from living in bands of nomadic hunter gatherers, to forming permanent settlements.


            But is this picture of our hunter gatherer ancestors correct? The reality is that much of this isn’t true.

            Perhaps We Have OUR Past Completely Wrong

            Hunter gatherers ‘work’ on average 20 hours a week. Here I am talking about hunter gatherers in the Australian outback or the Kalahari Desert, not exactly plush environments. What we are calling work here for hunter gatherer’s or what anthropologists count as their work are the very things we all escape to on vacation, like hunting and fishing. Hunter gatherers in fact have fairly varied diets, and they have far more leisure time than most of us do in the modern world. In addition their social structure is highly egalitarian. All the basic needs of all members of the band are fairly easily met. In other words, no one goes without what they need to live a fulfilled life.

What about violence, and war?


            Doug Fry and Patrik Söderberg, two anthropologists who specialise in the study of preagricultural societies, have noted that, “Nowhere in the actual data [on nomadic foragers] are found instances of lethal raiding for trophies or coups ” they continued by arguing that, “the worldwide archaeological evidence shows that war was simply absent over the vast majority of human existence.” This all changed and the archaeological record is “clear and unambiguous” on this with the advent of large scale agricultural settlements. It was at this time that, “War developed, despots arose, violence proliferated, slavery flourished, and the social position of women deteriorated.” The conclusion that arises out of this, and many other sources of research that agree is that civilisation was not responsible for reducing the ravages of human violence, but rather that civilisation itself is the source of most organised human violence. As Brian Ferguson professor of anthropology at Rutgers University-Newark notes, “We are not hard-wired for war. We learn it.”

            Archaeologists have discovered over 300 cave painting galleries dating from the Palaeolithic era, not one of which contains depictions of warfare, weapons or warriors.

            Violence & Modernity

            This brings me back to the question I raised earlier: Have we always been an aggressive species, or is it mostly a byproduct of the environment we find ourselves in?


            While of course it would be naive to argue that violence never existed among our ancestors prior to agriculture, what is clear is that it proliferated since the dawn of the Neolithic. This will be unsettling to a lot of people in the modern world, especially those invested in violence in its various guises. We would like to believe as Steven Pinker wrote in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined that life in pre-history was marked by violence and war, along with “chronic raiding and feuding… characterised life in a state of nature.” However, this doesn’t seem to hold up. 

Just look around you, especially in the West, people are more unhappier than ever before, aggressive, stressed out, and feeling a sense of meaninglessness. My experience surviving a childhood of violence, and spending the rest of my life in teaching others how to combat it has shown me that on an individual level, people are generally far more aggressive than ever before.


            Its my position that much of the aggression we see these days among people is largely due to the scaffolding of modernity. The modern world doesn’t seem to be good for us. For most of our time on this planet we lived as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did, in small bands, deeply connected to the natural world. In fact, our brains and bodies still remain the same, except now we have been thrust into a human zoo of our own making. Everything about the world around us now is unnatural, caged into ever smaller cramped spaces of concrete and steel. 

            Environment Informs Behaviour

            To illustrate what the outcome can be when you take a species from its natural habitat and place it in an artificial one here is an poignant example. In the 1930s Solly Zuckerman and colleagues placed a 140 hamadryas baboons together in an exhibit at the London Zoo. In short order all hell broke loose with 94 adults and 14 infants being killed by each other. Initially it was thought that this violent outbreak was due to social discord, but later it became clear that it was likely due to the artificial environment that triggered the mayhem. As has been shown by other researchers captive female baboons are nine times more aggressive, while captive males are more than seventeen times as aggressive, when living in cages. In other words, environment has a deep impact on behaviour. Why anyone would think this would not be the same for humans is short sighted.

            Where Does This Place Me?

            As a life long martial artist and teacher the above conclusions places me in somewhat of a quandary. How do I situate myself within this framework? How do I take the above and integrate that knowledge into a way forward, whereby I can still honour the path of being a warrior, while ensuring that I contribute to the modern world in a peaceful way?


            I am certain what I have written throughout this article won’t make me popular. No one wants to accept that just maybe as we move further into becoming techno-sapiens things are only going to get worse. Just look around you for all the technical advances we have made, for all that modernity is said to be our saviour, more kids are committing suicide than ever before, kids are drugged up, there’s an opioid crisis, the environmental destruction, corporate greed and so forth. I am not sure about you, but this doesn’t seem to be the healthy option. 

I want to make it clear that my personal decisions are my own, and in no way account for those who coach my martial arts programs, and nor do I ever tell anyone how they should live. On the contrary, as a coach, I am merely a guide, sharing my personal insights, and if someone feels it speaks to them they are welcome to take what works.


            But over the past several years my entire perspective on coaching martial arts has changed. Looking back, in my beginning years, in my 20s I was a part of the problem I now see. I was using violence to try to overcome the trauma I had experienced as a child. Now that I know better, I continue to train and teach martial arts but only for three reasons: self-preservation, self-development and enjoyment. Not for sport, not as a way to dominate others, and definitely not to perpetuate the violence and aggression I am seeing everywhere around me. Its not easy, as sometimes the lines between right and wrong can become blurred. But I am honestly trying my best. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. 

            Where Am I Now?

            As I continue to develop my own personal martial arts practice, more than ever I believe that martial arts if approached correctly can act as a transformative function, leading each of us to becoming a more evolved self. An evolved self that by using the martial arts experience as a laboratory can overcome our own aggression towards ourselves, whilst showing up in the world peacefully. I finally get what my karate instructor meant when talking to all of us at 6-years old, “Karate isn’t to commit violence, but to end it”.



While our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have not used violence often against each other, their martial art was that of surviving and thriving. The success of the hunt, keeping the band safe, all lent to a hunter-gatherer’s character. We have always held those among us skilled in the martial way as people who (should) exhibit character traits we admire: courage, fearlessness, discipline, honesty and so forth. This is still true today. But to honour our inner hunter-gather is only possible if what we use martial art skills for is in the service of life, not in destroying it.

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