Sunday, February 14, 2016

Victim? Or Victor?

(thanks for the inspiration JD and RM)

I recently posted about a brutal machete attack in the US, suggesting "don't be a victim- get trained". This led to some dialog on my post, which was important enough to explain here.

Two sides of this situation were presented - both valid.

One friend, a lifelong martial artist, suggested that while self-defense is a good by-product of dedicated training, we need to make our personal and spiritual development the primary objective.  I do not disagree.

At the same time, another friend, also a lifelong martial artist, suggested that practicality comes first, and that our training needs to provide protection for ourselves and our loved ones as a principal goal.  He does not discount personal or spiritual growth, but suggests it is secondary to self-defense.  Again, I do not disagree.

So --- which is more important, personal/spiritual development or self-defense?
This is a very difficult question, and one I suspect has a unique answer for everyone.

 I hope never to be in a violent confrontation again.  If so, then the need for practical self-defense would be secondary to my need for personal and spiritual growth.  However, if such a situation were to occur, platitudes and good intentions would likely get me (and maybe those I care about) hurt or killed.  That is a loss I could not bear.

Although the press would have us believe otherwise, I think the world is a far safer place than it has been at any other time in human history.  Generally, the rule of law abides everywhere, even if it is not always perfect (and sometimes way off the mark).  Most of us are at very little risk of violent attack in our daily lives, especially in Japan where I live.  So, why study martial arts, then?

For me, the answer lies in understanding what being a victim really means (and by extrapolation, what "self defense" really means).

In a violent encounter, a victim is someone who is the recipient of unsolicited aggression. He/she did nothing to warrant an attack, and was simply the target of violence.  Clearly, this is a case where self-defense is about protecting our physical self (and others) from harm by aggressors. However, good martial arts training does not just teach us to defend against attacks when they happen, it also teaches us to project a positive, confident demeanor, which often defuses potentially violent situations before they occur.  Does this work in all cases?  No.  Does it work much of the time?  Absolutely.  I have not had to use force on an aggressor in more than 20 years, and I believe much of this is due to the fact that I do not present myself as a victim.  I walk confidently, head up and shoulders high, watching my surroundings.  Of course, I tend to avoid very dangerous places and use common sense when I travel, too, which contributes to my safety.  That said, I still use my martial arts training EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Just not for fighting.

Not every attack is physical, and not every receiver of an attack needs to be a victim.

The victim mentality is one where we feel others are to blame for our situation, and we are thus helpless to effect any positive change.  In a mugging or rape, this may often be true.  However, there are many situations where we adopt a victim mentality because we do not take responsibility for our own outcomes.  Sometimes we are not cautious or careful in how we conduct ourselves or engage others.  We may project a weak or negative attitude, which is a signal to predators.  We may fail to be aware of our environment and thus be unable to prevent a bad situation from escalating.  Vigilance is import every day and is a cornerstone of our regular zen practice, which reminds us to "Be Here Now" remain mindful of everyday details.

I do not teach my students to be victims in any aspect of their lives.  This includes not being a victim our our own negativity, self- doubt, laziness, pride, anger, fear.  Rather, I expect my students and I to take responsibility for our own actions without blaming anyone else for any setbacks.  I expect all of us to do our best in every situation and not settle for less than the happiness and success we deserve.

I expect my students to be compassionate - peaceful when possible, decisive when not.
I would go so far as to say that without studying a combat art in a combat mindset, we do not fully reap the benefits of the training in learning how to cope with stress and pressure, remain calm, and deliver "right action in the right moment" - the essence of zen.

Hopefully, none of us will ever be involved in a violent encounter.  Then, I hope we will all continue to recognize the value of the training in our personal and professional lives.  It is our commitment to the Peaceful Warrior Way that gives us the confidence to be compassionate and not give in to our fears or negativity.

If we are in a conflict, I hope we are successful in walking away without injury.  I hope the situation is resolved without undue force and with minimal harm.  We all have the right to defend ourselves and our families, and we all have the responsibility to be trained to do so should such a need arise.

My friends are both absolutely right:  We must seek a higher purpose in what we do.  At the same time, what we do has to work if and when we need it.

See you at class.

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