In 1987, my school was located next to George’s Gym, a big hangout for bodybuilders in town. One day, a local bully was picking on a couple of kids. This guy was big and strong and stood close to 6’5”. I got disgusted with the whole scene and went over to him, folded my arms and asked him to please leave them alone. Miraculously, the bully decided to “drop the knife” and left them alone.
I learned to “drop the knife” from my hero and father, Eugenio Martinez. I grew up in the Dominican Republic, where the machete was the popular weapon of choice for settling disputes. The machete is a large knife with destructive potential. If you’re a fan of horror movies, you’ve seen Jason wield his bloody 26” blade in Friday the 13th. A cut with a machete is deep and can traumatize more tissue than the average knife, given the velocity of this long-range weapon. Victims frequently lose fingers in the process of fending off a machete attack. Machetes are readily available in rural areas like the Dominican Republic where farmers frequently use them to cut sugarcane, split coconuts, and clear brushy landscapes, so it’s not uncommon to pick one up for other reasons.
One day my father’s brother, Juan, was in the beginning stages of what looked like a vicious fight. It was my father who turned to him before a drop of blood was shed and ordered his brother to “drop the knife.” My father believed that fighting was not the way to resolve disputes. If he had to fight, he knew how and was quite skillful, but he had a greater weapon than the machete; it was respect.
Respect is something you earn. My father raised eleven children, never borrowing a penny from anyone. He was known as a trusted and honorable man who in addition to taking care of his family, took care of his neighbors. He was a peacemaker in every sense of the word. When I was a child, I recall an incident where he was called to get a rowdy party under control. The situation looked tense and there were close to 300 people ready to explode. Within ten minutes of my father arriving, the dispute was resolved. The amazing part of this was that my father didn’t have to raise a finger. He had a way of getting people to “drop the knife,” and people who would literally hand the machete to him.
I used this lesson when many years ago when tried to make an independent martial arts movie, which ended up leaving me with a debt of close to a million dollars. Everyone advised me to go bankrupt and wipe out the loans I borrowed from many investors who had faith in my vision and in me. Had I followed my impulses and emotions, I would have filed for bankruptcy. Instead I backed up and reassessed the situation. I paid everyone back with interest. In turn, I earned their respect.
I learned a lot from watching my father and have always tried to apply this lesson in my life. There have been many challenges in coming to this country, opening a martial arts school and creating my own system. “Drop the knife,” means stepping back before reacting out of anger, reassessing a situation and thinking before you strike that first blow. Over time, you earn the respect of those around you because you rely on skill and the reputation you have built to resolve your problems.
Dominican Republic Martial Artist