“Morihei Ueshiba’s philosophy offers a visionary approach to many of life’s thorniest problems and innovative solutions aimed toward peaceful resolutions.”
Of late, I have been preoccupied with what at first glance seems an irresolvable dilemma. Let me describe the elements of this perplexing problem. It has to do with the notion of self-defense and what assumptions necessarily attach to it which we may not have fully considered.
Of necessity, if we are defending ourselves, we must be the target of an attack of some sort. If we are the target, the perpetrator of the attack has arranged the circumstances of his aggression to his advantage, and we are forced into a reactive role. Whether the aggressor is armed or unarmed, he enjoys a great advantage because the time necessary for the defender to respond after the fact is very short. In addition to the physical response time window which may only be fractions of a second, there is the mental processing time required to recognize the attack as as threat that must be dealt with. How can one expect to prevail under such unfavorable conditions? Except perhaps in the case of the highly trained individual, there is not sufficient time or opportunity for the less skilled to escape, and most end up victims of violence.
What alternatives are there to this seemingly hopeless dilemma? Well, we might consider taking on the role of the initiator when we have determined that an attack against our person is imminent. That is to say, we might decide to launch a preemptory attack when we believe that someone is about to physically harm us.
Unfortunately, this leads us down another slippery slope which should give us pause to reflect. For example, if we had a “hunch” that someone was about to strike us, and instead struck him first, what would our legal standing then be? Could we say after the fact to the judge, “You see, he was about to hit me, so I got in the first punch instead. I’m so sorry I broke his jaw!”? How would the legal system treat us in such a scenario when we have outright admitted that we struck the first blow and caused injury to the would-be attacker? Surely not kindly. Once again we have hit a wall.
So, if we wait to be sure that we are being attacked before defending ourselves to be legally in the right, we are likely to become victims and be injured or killed. If, on the other hand, we launch a preemptive attack to better the odds of our prevailing, but in the process injure our presumed attacker, we end up in hot water with the law. What to do?
Enter Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido…
Let’s revisit the same situation of impending violence assuming this time that the target of the attack is skilled at aikido and has internalized the ethical system advocated by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.
Now having determined that he is about to be attacked, the intended victim becomes the initiator and explodes with a kiai and controlled atemi, followed by a joint-lock or throw, and a pin. Here the aggressor has lost the element of surprise and the roles have been reversed.
The aikido adept, having both throwing and pinning skills, now has a choice as to what to do at this point. He has chosen not to violently punch or kick, both percussive actions whose damage is very hard to control. He can immobilize or render unconscious the assailant without causing serious damage. In such a circumstance, one now chooses what the appropriate level of response is, and can “own” the consequences of his actions with confidence. I would venture to say that such a person would have a much stronger legal standing if the other party has suffered no serious injury.
Although perhaps idealized, this is an “aiki” response, potentially lethal but tempered by skills acquired through years of training and a life-protecting morality. This is akin to the “katsujinken” or life-giving sword, a metaphor often used by the Founder to emphasize aikido’s moral imperative to respect and nurture life.
Aikido is truly unique as a martial art in terms of the set of skills it provides and the moral outlook it inculcates in the dedicated practitioner. In this sense, Morihei Ueshiba’s philosophy offers a visionary approach to many of life’s thorniest problems and innovative solutions aimed toward peaceful resolutions.
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