Monday, December 19, 2005

Distraction: Pacifism and the Martial Arts

I'm in the process of having a very good argument with a close friend of mine about the martial arts that I’d like your opinion on…

My friend studies the martial arts, and he's a fourth degree black belt. In addition to a lot of other very good reasons to study the martial arts, he believes that it allows him to minimize violence. If conflict occurs, he is well equipped to defend himself and others. And studying the martial arts makes it unlikely that he will ever hurt someone, because he has a very high level of discipline and control over his body and his emotions. He would never attack someone if there is another viable way of resolving the situation, and if attacked, he could use the exact amount of force necessary to disable to person without killing them, thus minimizing violence.

I'm a pacifist. I haven't committed a violent act of any type in over ten years. Having studied pretty much every religion I know about, I could give you a long theological and philosophical discourse on why I'm a pacifist. But for the sake of this particular argument, I only want to focus on the practical aspects of pacifism, and why it’s better then the martial arts for protecting yourself and others.

My opinion is that violence begets violence. Once you allow violence into your decision making process, it becomes an option for resolving conflict. When people accept violence as an option for resolving conflict the possible results are pain, injury, death, and more violence. When people refuse to accept violence as an option, it rarely if ever occurs.

For example, once a stranger in a bar picked a fight with me, and I let him hit me several times and knock me to the floor. I told him that he won, and offered to buy him a drink. His ego seemed satisfied now that he had leveled someone half his size, so I bought him a beer and we ended up playing pool for a few hours.

It's my contention that if I had been a practitioner of the martial arts, that I would have fought the drunkard, and one or both of us would have been hurt a lot more then if I just took a couple of punches and bought him a beer. No doubt if I were trained to do so I could have appropriately and minimally hurt or restrained him, but that would have drawn in his friends, then my friends, and expanded the violence.

But even if he was at the bar alone and I kicked his butt out the door, it is likely that the experience would make him angry and resentful - more likely to be violent in the future, though he’d probably pick weaker targets. Perhaps he would have gone home to beat his wife and his kids. Or perhaps he'd go back to his car where he had a gun. Who knows? Letting him win and then talking afterwards humanized the situation and gave me an opportunity to reason with him, thus minimizing future violence.

I am never going to be attacked by ninjas, or targeted by a hit man. I'm not in the police, armed forces, or other government organization that is responsible for protection and safety. Random bar incidents and crime are exceedingly rare, and can be handled quite easily by someone with a level head who values life more then pride and money. Crime statistics consistently show that if someone attacks me, it is most likely someone I know - someone who will listen to me and probably have very little reason to attack me in the first place because of my pacifism.

Therefore in all cases in my life, and probably yours, the best way to resolve conflict is with words, and if that is not possible, to allow the assailant to win. The only thing that will be really hurt is ego, and I don't have any, so who cares.

The martial arts are great for physical health. They are a great way to build discipline. They can be an excellent starting point for studying eastern philosophies, which I have a great interest in and respect for. It's certainly fun to watch, and I've been told that its fun to do. Like other social activities (religion, politics, sports) it’s a great way to meet like minded people and spend time with them. And I can honestly see why it would be cool to think of yourself as the hero, the crime fighter, the untouchable Zen Master. So for all those reasons and probably more, I understand why people practice the martial arts.

Not SomeGuyInDCNot SomeGuyInDC

But I have yet to hear a satisfying answer as to why you should study the martial arts if your aim is to minimize violence and maximize your safety and the safety of your loved ones. I accept the fact that a martial arts master is far better equipped then the average person on the street. But isn’t pacifism better still?

Why should you spend your entire life studying different ways to be violent, if your goal is to be non-violent?

Of course, I know for a fact that there are at least six different highly skilled martial artists who read this blog, most notably Qui Gonn Jesse, Paleotheist, Nazgul, and my fourth degree black belt friend.

So, martial arts enthusiasts of the world, tell me why I'm wrong. The let intellectual beat down begin!


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