It seems to me there are any number of valid choices in response to conflict. Some choose to become limp or unresponsive in order to do no harm to others. Some chose to cause pain and even damage while doing as little lasting harm as possible. Others feel entitled to use even deadly force to insure self-protection when they feel threatened. The choice I understand but do not respect is a voluntary lack of careful decisions and practice. You are more likely to actually deploy your choice of response while under pressure only if you have carefully chosen strategies that reflect your actual belief system and then practiced those strategies over time.
When I was young, a group of boys I played regularly with chose to victimize me. One, in particular, was trying to impress the leader by throwing my things into the street and trying to push me to the ground for further humiliation. When he came at me I struck him in the face, knocked him to the ground, and saw the look on his face as he became the victim instead of me. Instead of pressing my advantage and claiming the reward of the group's approval, I burst into tears and ran home, while they all watched dumbfounded. For some time thereafter. I experimented with risking harm to myself in order to model non-violence. Then it became clear to me that there must be a middle ground that would allow me not only to protect myself but also to intervene when others were being victimized, an outcome which more passive strategies did not often provide. I studied a bit of karate and tried to educate myself about other martial arts. It seemed like the middle ground I had imagined was either very rare, or was not being practiced in my area, so I left the martial arts for several years despite enjoying the rigor and competition. In 1990 I renewed my search for the discipline that would fit my desire for a conflict method that matched my ideology. I discovered an art, the founder of which had explicitly aligned his practice with the kind of peace-making I had determined to learn.
Aikido as embodied metaphor
“In aikido we do not train to become powerful or to throw down some opponent. Rather we train in hopes of being of some use, however small our role may be, in the task of bringing peace to mankind around the world.” - Morihei Ueshiba, O'Sensei, Founder of Aikido
One way, rather than The Way, I approach peace work is through the practice of aikido. Since it involves taking advantage of another person's imbalance and altering both their altitude and attitude, there is always the potential for the use of strength for domination. Since aikido seeks a transformation of the conflict experience and the cycle of violence, rather than seeking individual victory over an Enemy, practitioners run the risk of being overrun by an aggressive attacker. These are the tensions, both in the bodies and in the minds of the persons participating, that make Aikido work when it works and fail when it fails, especially as real self-defense.
The practice of Aiki as a Way (Do or Tao), however, is both fundamental to and independent of physical combat concerns, because it shapes the practitioner to insist that conflicts shall have a different outcome from the usual, in which there can be only one winner and they are entitled to meet out punishment and do as they like. Combat systems appropriately seek always to win. While training toward fluency, however, so that success is more frequent, aikido whets its effectiveness against an ever more difficult challenge by insisting that mastery involves the unexpected shift of expectations from "whatever you thought you were going to do to me, now it will be done to you ten-fold!" toward insisting that every person, even with the least acceptable behavior, be able to make it through dilemmas intact and, if possible, with additional learning and options. This deconstructs the cycle of violence itself rather than simply defeating a particular group of attackers.
Martial Nonviolence or MNv® is the process art of conflict training that honors the need to struggle, admitting that one may fall out of habit into the role of "winner" or "loser" at times. But MNv insists that friction not be framed as a zero-sum game in which someone must become the victim. It has verbal and somatic components which combine physical aikido with specific words, training the intuition, inclining one toward mediation, making possible social activism, and leading to the improvisational performance of peace while under pressure. The end result is a profusion of options and different concrete outcomes than anyone thought possible at the beginning. That these outcomes work for the good of all is still, and will always be, dependent on the character of those involved. That is why conflict studies which build character and compassion in community are so necessary in our world.
Since 2009, Martial Nonviolence has been the method at the core of an internationally funded project by Association Building Community, called Peace Practices, which creates unique curriculae for specific communities, businesses, schools, and other groups who are ready to practice peace and truly build teams dedicated to all-win strategies. Martial Nonviolence is also part of the search process for people ready and willing to be a part of a professional training partnership which practices doing conflict well in order to build peaceful communities. This partnership calls itself Guardians of Peace and is always in formation. Please email Council at GuardiansOfPeace dot org for more information or to recommend a candidate.
Both English and Japanese descriptions of techniques are used during training, though MNv uses local (in this case English) plain language descriptions.
FreeAiki uses an expanded version of Aikido of Berkeley's testing requirements for adults and for children so those wanting Aikikai recognized rank may test for Brandon and Kayla Sensei, but also welcomes training partners who are learning other styles. The most important value is that techniques result in the multi-layered shift that the term 'aiki' represents. No matter one's tradition of origin, an application of technique either does or does not:
- base the movement of a consistent posture on
- borrowing an attacker's balance and
- blending to deconstruct an attack
- so that violence on anyone's part becomes extremely unlikely.
Aiki is aiki, even in other languages, images, and martial expressions. In the end, one either blends effectively or not, while it is also true that even in the most effective application there is always room for discovery.
Historical examples of aiki in process arts...