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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Peace and the Martial Arts

"The Martial Arts aren't about violence, they're about peace."

I've seen this put out there by various martial arts schools now and then, and it always gives me a little pause.

I mean, I think I understand what they are trying to say.  That our study of the martial arts is not necessarily primarily about learning how to commit violence or to be violent people. The school teaches to defend against violence, and to avoid it when we can. It's a sort of fighting-fire-with-fire strategy of dealing with bad guys.

I get why they're saying this, too.  It's to point out to potential students - or the parents of potential students really - that the martial arts school they're running is not a bully training program.  That they teach - or attempt to teach - to only use violence when there's no other option.

Most of us aren't into the idea of learning how to use violence to hurt other people - fundamentally, most of us aren't interested in doing that unless we're forced to. So that idea is a way for us to connect with the vast majority of us who aren't bullies or criminals.

Here's the thing.  I think this is a lofty concept, but it grants the moral high ground to the idea that all violence for any purpose is at best distasteful and at worst is bad or evil.

I don't think we should concede the point that all violence is bad.

Look, violence is what we are all about in the martial arts.  Let's not kid ourselves, because it's true.

We primarily study how to commit and use violence, and harness it to good purpose.  That good purpose is defense of self and others against people who are willing and able to initiate force against us.

We generally learn not to initiate violence without very, very good reason in the service of something that is justifiable to protect life and limb against what we consider a bad guy doing bad things.

I am not a person who believes that violence, in itself, is always a bad thing.  I believe violence is neutral, and is only bad or good depending on the context of its use. I definitely believe that violence can be used to good purpose. That's one of the major points behind the martial arts to begin with - to learn to use martial arts for good purpose.

I believe peace for the sake of peace is often a quick road to tyranny and abuse. Violence is sometimes necessary to end that tyranny and abuse.

I believe that violence applied correctly by good women and men is the only thing protecting us, the good people, from that minority (call them sick, or call them evil) who wants to control us, hurt us, or abuse us because they can.

Violence also underlies every law we have on the books.  If you do not comply peacefully and willingly with the law, they will make you comply using violence.  Any time you have supported a necessary law, you have supported the use of violence to enforce that law, by necessity.

There are laws most of us would agree that it is fine to use violence to enforce - such as laws against murder, rape, and assault. And most of us would also agree that using violence in self defense is also a perfectly acceptable use.

We are in the business (or the hobby, really, for most of us) of learning how to be as good at violence as we can possibly be.  We teach others to do the same.

Most of us don't want to engage in violence for real. We are't seeking a real fight in anger, or self defense against someone wishing us serious harm. But we're ready if someone else decides to initiate violence against us. This is what being "peaceful" really means, of course.

We desire to never to have to use what we work so hard to become good at - at least, most of us don't.

So perhaps that's what we have to say when we say we aren't about violence, but about peace.  We prepare to learn a skill that we hope to never have to actually use.   We get really good at something that'll always stay in the realm of something we prepare for, versus reality.

We can't, and we shouldn't, shy away from the core truth that violence is what we do, and what we are about.

So how do you think about what "being peaceful" in the martial arts, and what does that mean for you?

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