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Last week, we briefly discussed the chances of same-sex marriage finally bringing Western civilization to its knees. Of course, I dismissed that prospect outright.

But when you think about the decline and fall of any civilization, what comes to mind? That’s right: violence, like gladiatorial combat, masquerading as sport. When a culture views pain, suffering and death as spectacle, it’s generally a sign the fat lady is about to sing.

So while we’ll someday laugh at the lack of any gay marriage fallout, I’m more than a little concerned about a mixed martial arts competition (“Ultimate Fighting”) coming back to St. Charles.

Despite a committee’s opposition and aldermen voting down a bout at the Aracada Theatre, after the promoter made some concessions, the full city council gave the DuPage Expo Center venue the green light. Those concessions included making it a 21-and-older event and cutting off alcohol by 10:30 p.m. at the latest.

Last year, Alderman Jim Martin told me, “It’s barbaric and ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of human dog fighting. Martial arts are a good form of discipline, but there’s no discipline involved in two guys getting into a cage and beating each other to a pulp. There’s no art to that. This is a black eye for the martial arts.” Speaking as someone who met his wife in a martial arts dojo, I think he’s dead on.

Six states including New York already have banned mixed martial arts bouts, and I’m sure you’ve already grimaced through the cable commercials depicting two idiots who are beating each other to a bloody pulp. Frankly, I fail to see the “sport” in that.

But before I went off on another one of my infamous rants, I wanted to give mixed martial arts promoter Rob Zbiliski a shot at defending this activity. And let me tell ya, more than a few politicians I know could take lessons from him on how to handle the press (are you listening, Sen. Mike Noland?).

Zbiliski also owns a Northern Illinois martial arts studio, and I was pleasantly surprised when he admitted that most martial art disciplines include the caveat “There’s no first strike in karate.”

“On a traditional martial arts self-defense level, I completely agree,” Zbiliski said, “Ninety percent of our students are in it for self-defense. But there are that 10 percent that want to test their skill in competition. We are simply trying to promote international team sports competition.”

So I asked Zbiliski if we should consider something where one combatant can legally and repeatedly bludgeon his prone opponent in the face with a fist to be a sport. “We are trying to improve on that at the amateur level,” Zbiliski said. “We’ve come up with new rules, like no knees to the head or elbows to the face. If someone gets punched in the face three or four times in a row, the refs stop the bout. The last thing I want to see is somebody get hurt in something I promoted.”

Zbiliski also admitted I was onto something when we discussed the potential long-term damage that mixed martial arts fighters might have to endure. He said it’s not nearly as bad at the amateur level, and he added, “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to reach your goal.” He also explained that dedication to the sport actually kept some fighters from turning to crime and drugs.

In fact, after researching the sport for a week, new Alderman Maureen Lewis changed her vote stating that mixed martial arts “has cleaned up its act.” But isn’t that a lot like saying you’d take Paris Hilton over Lindsay Lohan when you know you’d be far better off with neither?

When I told Zbiliski I still favored an Illinois ban, he responded, “Where do you draw the line? Shouldn’t it be up to the person who wants to do it? This is something I enjoy doing and people enjoy watching.”

I have to admit, he has a point. There are other grueling athletic endeavors such as triathlons, ultra marathons and facing down a 400-pound defensive lineman. As a runner, watching someone throw up five times after a 100-mile ultra marathon bothers me just as much as any mixed martial arts match. But the big difference is, virtually no one watches an ultra marathon.

So, once again, it all boils down to that whole fall of Western civilization thing. Have we reached the point where, in order to be “entertained,” we have to see red blood flowing across the canvas? And if we have, innocuous issues such as gay marriage are the least of our worries.

http://couriernews.suntimes.com/news/3773415-418/no-mixed-feelings-about-this-martial-arts-violence.html