Friday, September 10, 2010

What Martial Arts Teaches Us About Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. It is a part of all of our lives, and aspiring to live without it is unreasonable, since many times conflict is brought about by the actions of others, not ourselves.

Martial arts has as a principal benefit, the study of conflict and how to deal with it. Many people think martial arts are violent, and promote violent resolution of all conflicts, domestic or otherwise. This is simply not true.

Through our study of martial arts, we aim to better understand ourselves and our emotions, and to learn how to remain calm under stress. This helps minimize the chances that a conflict presented to us will escalate. Many conflicts arise from insecurity and weak character - that is, we fight because we feel a desperate need to prove ourselves worthy. In martial arts training we do not see fighting as a means of resolving conflict. Rather, it becomes a way of developing the confidence not to fight at all.

This has broad implications for society, and reinforces my belief that the world would be a much better place if everyone in it studied martial arts (under good teachers, of course).

1) Mutual Respect
We bow. we bow to each other, to our teachers, to our partners, to our opponents, to the kamiza. There is a lot of bowing. Respect for one another is a very important step to avoiding conflict. It is more than saying; it must be doing. I think a lot of the discord globally comes from both sides not feeling respected by the other.

2) Aikido no Ai  合
This character means "coming together", "joining", "unifying". Proper aikido is not done "to" someone, it is done "with" someone. Shared activities foster universal understanding. Corporate trainers know this, but martial arts masters have known this for far longer.

3) Winning versus Losing --- or --- different degrees of loss
It is a shallow mind that thinks of combat as winning versus losing. Ask anyone who has ever been in war about this. Even those whose army was victorious would they say they "won". War is just different degrees of loss. Friends die on both sides and the tragedy is hardly less for either side. In conflict everyone loses. Every real warrior knows this. Good martial arts training teaches us about mortality, and the frailty of this human life we have. It is very important to consider deeply that losing less than the other side hardly equates to "victory". It is still a net loss. Doshu wrote "...the main feature of aikido is that there is no victory and no defeat".
Boxing is an interesting example. Every boxer gets hit in every fight. No one comes away without injury. The fact that we declare a winner and a loser is artificial, and because boxing is combative we consider it a martial art, when it is, in fact, a sport. Sports can have winners and losers because they abide by artificial rules. It is important not to mistake this for combat.

4) Dedication and Commitment
When we see other martial artists train, we can see their commitment to what they do, even if we do differently. There is never a need to show ourselves to be more or less dedicated than they are. In conflict, this "one upsmanship" and desperate need to outdo the other is a key reason why we see so much extremism/radicalism on both sides. Being a moderate is simply not consider "cool". In martial arts, our principal commitment should always be to the training and nothing more. All true paths lead to the same enlightened place, which makes all martial artists brothers and sisters. It would be good if nations followed this example.

5) Peace Leads to Peacefulness
A lifetime of martial arts training should yield tranquility that comes with wisdom and understanding. This way is a spiritual way, practiced with our bodies and using our minds.
"only one who truly understands war can comprehend peace".

It is my great hope that we can all live respectfully in harmony with each other.
This can only come from looking within and finding our real strength as people, our compassion, and the discipline to maintain peace together for the good of us all. It is time to put away petty beliefs and the never-ending desire for revenge. It is time for everyone to be brave enough to embrace peace.

Let's train.

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