The Power of Shutting Up: My Talk with Tony Blauer by Buck Grant

A few days ago I was given an opportunity of a lifetime. In the midst of a big controversy involving the CrossFit Self Defense, martial arts and self defense community, (see link HERE for context) I had the opportunity to interview the founder of the Crossfit Self Defense system, Tony Blauer on my podcast, The Fight Focus.

I felt a lot of pressure from the martial arts community going into this interview. I have always considered myself the United Nations of the martial arts community. I tend to get along with most people, even ones who exist on opposite ends of the belief spectrum. I see that as an advantage generally. In this situation however, it caused me a bit of anxiety.

I was told by my good friend and teammate Paolo Rubio, before going into the podcast, to be careful with Tony. (Keep in mind, Paolo was the one that made this whole interview possible and I am very grateful for that.) I understood what he meant. Tony has very strong opinions about his beliefs on self defense as well as, well, everything. He also, according to Paulo, has a tendency to steamroll the people that he interviews. This essentially meant that if I wasn’t careful, he would literally take over my podcast, not giving me a word edgewise.

Where my fear came from was the pressure of the community. We decided to do the podcast live, a decision I instantly started to regret as we experienced trouble during the log on faze. I felt it was a sign, a sign that I ignored none the less. 

I had spent all day preparing for this interview which I was told could be a major break for me as an aspiring journalist/podcaster. No pressure right?! He was only one of the top 3 renowned self defense instructors in our field. And people either LOVED him or HATED him! There was very little in between with this man. 

As the podcast went live, I felt my throat tighten as I anticipated people from both sides jumping on to expect one of two things: Either a public lynching of him OR a sermon on the mount BY him. I was faced with a dilemma, which side of the pendulum do I swing?

And so I made a choice.

During the podcast, I shut up and let him speak.

I have found a certain power in silence. All of my life, people have felt comfortable telling me their deepest, darkest secrets, their greatest joys and their most extreme pain. Yogi’s sometimes call this ability “holding space.” I think, for me, it stems from being quiet and shy when I was a child. Because I was afraid to interact with people, I simply watched. I could SEE when people were angry or sad. I could FEEL their frustration and their FEAR. I found that because I had spent so many years being the proverbial fly on the wall, that people felt truly seen by me. That allowed them to lower their guard and be vulnerable with me.

As the podcast continued, I could feel the tension build as more and more people joined. Many, both during and after the podcast, accused me of being too weak in my approach, that I should have been more assertive. I think that is a shame. We live in a world that prides straight forward dominance in nearly everything we do. Such a viewpoint is not inherently bad, and is often needed in a world where violence and assertion is sometimes the answer. But that way of being is incomplete and misses the subtlety of things.

Whether you believe him or not, Tony told you EVERYTHING you needed to know about him. 

His apparent agitation and anger at times, though perhaps misplaced and misdirected, came from a desire to defend both a student/ teacher he cared about, and a system he has spent his whole life developing. His apology was riddled with conflict, because, like all of us, we believe that WE are our stories. We believe our self made narratives. When that narrative is challenged, especially in front of the whole world, we perceive an imminent death, though realistically it is only a egoic death. 

When we drop the drama, the collective narrative that says “We our polarized beings destined to war against one another,” we can see that ALL of us experience the same things. We ALL are afraid to be wrong because it feels like death, we protect things longer than we should, we show our teeth or run and hide when we sense danger. 

I enjoy the power of silence. I value watching the world unfold in front of me as I seek to see its truth. I often thought that my silence was weakness when I was young, and sometimes, those insecurities come out as an adult. I try to remind myself  that one cannot speak and TRULY listen at the same time. If you are quiet enough, you will hear everything that you need to hear.

(More on instructors, their identity and the hero/god complex in my next blog.)

About the Author:

Buck Grant is former professional mixed martial artist, black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Master Level Teacher (Ajarn) of Muay Thai and a Personal Development Coach. He is a published author of his autobiographical book, “Over The Top Rope: Life Lessons From the Ring” and hosts his own podcast called The Fight Focus, now available on iTunes and Spotify.