Friday, March 19, 2010

Why would a nonviolentist study a martial art?

Has Fitz-Gibbon suddenly taken up violence?

Not at all. I am still working this through, but here are a few thoughts.

Tai chi is an "internal" art. In other words, it is focussed more on the mind-body relationship than on merely physical conditioning. It's main emphasis is on "chi" or breath or energy. Like all the internal meditative arts it is a way of self-knowledge and a way of dealing with your own inner violence. In this way, tai chi is a way of peace, a way of resolving conflicts nonviolently.

In some popular literature at present, tai chi is put forward merely as a gentle way of exercising. Hence, it is often associated with the elderly. I asked a good friend if he had ever thought of practicing tai chi. His response was something to the effect that when he "gets old" and can't do other sports he might try it. I think that is often the way tai chi is perceived in the popular imagination. From all I have read, tai chi an exercise that will be available to practitioners until the end—unlike most other forms of exercise. But not only so.

Tai chi is a martial art. It is a very powerful form of "self-defense" for those skilled in its application.

I am ambivalent to the idea of "self-defense," despite it being an unchallenged assumption of our culture. A quick google search will reveal that much "self-defense" is about how to inflict violence. There is much flexing of muscles, and many discussions about which is the best martial art. Would a karate expert defeat an aikido expert? Is kung fu more lethal than tai kwan do? All such talk leaves me cold! Violence is what is wrong with the world.

My work in moral philosophy has led me to join with those who say that love is the way we should live. In any situation we should seek to do that which is most loving. What, then, of love and "self-defense." There are times when we face an aggressor. Surely, we have a right to defend ourselves? I prefer to ask the question: when faced with an aggressor, what is the loving thing to do? It is a criticism of nonviolence that the nonviolentist would let the aggressor walk all over them, without putting up a fight. I think that is a misunderstanding of nonviolence. Nonviolence is love. To allow an aggressor to inflict violence would not be loving toward the aggressor. Nor would it always be loving to receive the aggressors violence (though at times it may be). But, it may be loving to disarm the aggressor without causing harm. Tai chi, like aikido, is a form of "self-defense" that does not seek to harm the aggressor, but to use the aggressor's own force to disarm him/her—to become one with the aggressor and so turn an enemy into a friend. Of course, the true aim is never even having to resort to physical force at all.


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