When I was a student of Philosophy back in the early ‘80s, I struggled with the problem of violence and the conundrum of dealing with it. How do you handle violence without yourself becoming violent or becoming a victim of violence?
Received wisdom counsels continuously building strength until one is unassailable, but this leads to an ever-escalating and ultimately an unsustainable arms race that invariably leads to the collapse of everyone involved. This is true not only of superpowers but of individuals as well.
Underlying this way of thinking is the contradictory position that, on the one hand, you are ready to meet your adversary head-on and then annihilate him, and on the other, you fervently hope that no such confrontation would come to pass.
Meanwhile, you have a lot of resources, mental bandwidth, and emotional investment tied up in your ‘preparations’ for an ‘inevitable’ showdown that you hope will not happen ever because you know that — not only are such things painful and messy– but, more importantly, in these things there are no victors; there are only survivors. Just contemplating this made me depressed. There seemed to be no way out.
When I discovered aikido and read its core tenets, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Here was an immediate, practical solution to the problem of violence! The task of the practitioner of this martial art called an aikidoka, is to bring everyone in the confrontation back into ‘balance’. From the perspective of aikido, anyone who attacks another has lost his balance, and, as a service to humanity, the aikidoka uses her techniques to restore that lost balance. The intention is not to destroy or even defeat the attacker, and certainly not to dominate him, but to render him unable to do any harm to the practitioner, himself, and for that matter, anyone else. And while the techniques may sometimes look spectacular, the practitioner is enjoined to subdue her opponent gently, doing the least amount of harm possible.
What makes me prefer aikido as a martial art is the intention at the core of its practice: protect yourself but do no harm, and if you are able, prevent others from doing harm. This is in sharp contrast to many of the messages we get from media and from a business where victory and dominance–usually coupled with violent imagery–are commonplace. What impresses me about aikido is that this intention is put into practice through all its techniques. While it is good to have the intention of being gentle and peaceful, it is better when you have a way of expressing that intention in the world. It is one such way because it provides you with the means to put this intention into action.
But aikido is not just a set of techniques that you can use to protect itself; it is a point of view that you can consciously cultivate by practicing it every day. I do not necessarily mean that you should practice in the dojo every single day (although you could do that if you’re into that sort of thing); it is a way of approaching the world.
Instead of approaching the world as a place where you have 10,000 enemies (your mileage may vary), you could choose to encounter the world with the intention of peace and the knowledge that you know how to put it into practice.
The techniques of aikido develop a visceral sense in you that guides you as you build your strategies for dealing with the world. With time and practice, you will develop a repertoire of approaches that you are confident spreads peace.
Wouldn’t that be a better way of living instead of feeling that you always have to be confrontational?