017) Week of December 21, 2008: Nonviolence in Violent Encounters?

When somebody engages in the violent act of assaulting another person, is it reasonable to expect the person being attacked to remain nonviolent in an attempt to defend one’s self?  Where does our moral responsility lie?  When does our moral responsibility begin and end?

Aikido is a unique martial art from the perspective of placing some degree of moral accountability on the Aikidoka.  Moral accountability is a vague concept that can be construed in many different ways.   Let us start with ourselves.  We are alive and have a moral responsibility to ourselves, friends and loved ones to remain alive and part of our world.  In remaining alive, we may inadvertently do so at the expense of other people.  In a world with limited resources, this situation in inevitable.  What about when that other person is attacking you?

What is our moral responsibility to the person attacking us.  This is an interesting question that the practice of Aikido opens up to us to explore.  Aikido teaches us a repertoire of techniques that can restrain and/or bring an attacker to the ground without potentially causing intentional and grevious injury to the attacker.  This potential opens us up to having to explore the idea of “how much is enough.”  What is the minimal amount of force necessary to protect your life, keeping you safe and free from further attack?

There are no fast and easy answers to these questions.  We are forced to confront our own violent potentials.  We can easily delude ourselves into not acting with enough force, or the reverse, acting with too much force.  There is a story of a senior woman in the Aikido world who was attacked and let go of a joint lock when the attacker cried out in pain.  She did what she learned in practice and let go at the sound of pain and the attacker successfully mugged her!  There can be the other extreme where after throwing a person to the ground, the person kicks the attacker in the head.  The attacker is then seriously injured, or possibly killed.

The starting point for the exploration has to begin with the idea of remaining in control and acting in a deliberate manner when handling an attack.  This place requires that we remain centered, focused, balanced and breathing properly.  We spend much of our time in practice learning how to keep this state when confronted with an attack.  When we can do this better, we can begin to connect with the attacker before the attack begins.  When are in this place of “entering the mind of the attacker” before the attack, new possibilities emerge as to what we do.

I have shown many students a wide variety of options within set techniques that range from killing, seriously injuring, choking out, to simply restraining an attacker.  We always practice finishing a technique without intentionally causing serious harm to the person.  This places you in a position of recognizing the capacity to end an attack without adding any unnecessary violence to the situation.  This “moral” response is but one possibility that may not be appropriate in every situation.

I am asking students to reflect upon this most difficult subject.  We can gain some better understanding about our sense of humanity and morality in this process.  This process is part of the “Aikido Learning Experience.”  Aikido asks us to function in a manner that makes the world a more peaceful place to live in.  In doing so, we may be required to act in a manner that seriously injures, or even possibly results in the death of another person.  How we each personally address this most difficult of topics can only help inform us and move us forward in our pursuit toward becoming better people.

Happy Holiday!

Marc Abrams Sensei

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