I often wonder about the zen martial arts of Billy the Kid.
Billy was rumored to have killed 21 people before he was 21. That puts todays gangbangers to shame.
He was a rowdy, likable fellow, and he played the Robin Hood well. He managed to elude the law, and even make fools of them. He rustled freely, killed anybody who called him a cheater, and was popular with the folk…especially the Mexican folk, as they identified with a fellow who did the things they did. Simply, they were put upon and bullied, and they liked to see somebody fight back.
Another way to phrase this would be…how aware was he during a gun fight?
In answer to this question, I read several histories of Billy the Kid, and one particular book seemed to shed light on the matter. This was the book on Billy by Patrick Floyd Garret. Pat, if you didn’t know it, was the fellow who killed Billy the Kid.
Now, one thing to understand before we start, Pat isn’t always the best source. According to him, he beat Billy the Kid to the draw in a darkened bedroom. But…he probably ambushed him with a shotgun. So Pat isn’t sterling when it comes to telling the truth.
That said, however, two tales in his book on Billy seem to offer interesting glimpses into the mindset and reality of Billy the Kid.
One, Billy told a tale of how he had been trapped by Indians, and how he outran them, got into a slot canyon, and shot them. The odd thing about this is that it sounds not like a real incident, but braggadocio. But was it bragging because of Billy’ description? Or was presented in bragging style, preenting Billy in a poor light, in Pat Garret’s writing? At any rate, it sounds ludicrous, and is valuable only in that it illuminates a certain type of writing style that reveals the author is writing, or relaying, an untruth. Thus the second tale in the book, by being ‘absent’ of this style, seems to be the truth.
Apparently Billy the Kid was in a small store and he ran into a rancher he didn’t like. So he jokes around, and when the rancher is distracted, he pulls his gun…and finds that the rancher has drawn with him, matched him, and is staring at him with steely, no nonsense eyes.
Billy puts his gun away, laughs and jokes some more, tries to make a funny thing out of it all. ‘I was just funnin’ with ya,’ type of stuff.
The rancher goes on about his business, and Billy sneaks up behind him and draws his gun again…and finds that the rancher has drawn his own gun and is staring him right in the face.
Billy tries to make a joke out of it, puts his gun away, and then tries a sneak draw when the rancher holsters his own gun…but the rancher has redrawn and is staring at him silently.
And this went on for a half dozen more attempted draws. Was Billy serious? Was it attempted murder? Put off only because of the rancher was more aware, more intent, than Billy the Kid?
I don’t know, and none will ever. But, when you read the description it is eery. And there is just the ring of truth to it. And in this ‘true’ anecdote we can look at the Zen in Billy’s mind.
He didn’t have any.
The rancher, however, was aware at all times, didn’t bother with reaction time, stayed in the moment, and yet didn’t leap to conclusion. It is the zen–it is the ‘wise’–of a person who has enough experience that he can defend himself, and yet doesn’t want to bother with doing something that is basically bad. wouldn’t you call that good martial arts zen?