I know I’ve promised not to get into politics here, and I intend to keep that promise. However, there are topics that are (to my mind) beyond politics. They transcend the petty machinations of the talking heads, and speak to some basic parts of our psyche. And the very reason they polarize us is that the way we grow up shapes the very nature of our souls.
How’s that for a philosophical intro? Think of it as my way of warning you that you might want to make sure you’re wearing your hip waders before you read any further, because it’s about to get pretty deep around here.
I want to talk about the use of violence, up to and including the use of lethal force. I will attempt to do this in as unbiased a manner as I can, and I will tell you right now that I know I’m going to fail. My opinions are already formed. I have already had the experiences that turned me into the adult that I am, and for better or worse, my mind is set. So with the understanding that my attempt at an unbiased discussion here is doomed to failure, I will make you this promise; I will not squash any dissenting opinions that may arise from this blog post – as long as those opinions don’t descend into a trolling flame war. So keep it as polite as possible when you comment.
So let’s dive into the subject at hand – the use of violence or lethal force against a fellow human being. There are those who believe it to be a human or moral right to be able to use death, and the threat of death as a deterrent against the actions of others. There are others who believe it is too abhorrent a practice to even contemplate.
I’ve been a martial arts student for most of my life, and I recognize that this has been a major influence in making me who I am. And let’s not mince words here. The study of the martial arts is the study of violence. It is also the study of control, and balance. To accept martial arts into your life, you must accept that violence. And you must balance the violent aspects of the arts with proper control. At some point in your studies, you realize just how fragile the human body is, and it’s a real eye opener when you suddenly realize that it is sometimes easier to kill a person than it is to stop them without harming them.
But here’s the thing – martial artists are just as human as everyone else. They… we… are just as flawed as everyone else, and there are just as many schools of thought in the philosophy of violence, as there are in any other hot topic. Over the years, I’ve debated the “proper” use of violence with other martial artists, and you may be surprised to hear this, but there are many martial artists who feel that one should never use lethal force unless one attempts to use it against them first. Let me emphasize something here. They don’t say one should never use lethal force, only that you should never do so until after someone attempts to kill you first — not just threatens you, but actually attempts to kill you. They consider this to be a moral high road. Some take it a step further, stating that one should never attempt to fight against a burglar or mugger, even in an attempt to disarm or defuse the situation, because there is the risk that someone could get hurt or killed. The argument is that there is nothing in their homes or wallets worth risking a life over.
There are others who believe that when someone attempts to rob or mug them, the criminal is the one who has decided that the contents of the house or wallet is worth gambling their life. For them, there is no ethical question as to whether or not it is “right” to react with violence. To their way of thinking, they have already been threatened, and the consequences are the responsibility of the person who initiated the attack.
I’ve thought about both sides many times over the years. If you study a martial art for any length of time, you will play a lot of “what if” games. What if someone has a knife? What if there are multiple attackers? What if your attacker has a pistol? What if there is a dog attacking you? After a while you accept that you can never prepare for every eventuality. But what if became a permanent part of my mindset. So let me present you with some “what if”s here:
1. What if someone broke into your home and threatened you with harm? Do you use force against force to protect yourself? Does that extend to lethal force?
2. What if someone holds you and your loved ones up at gunpoint? If you have an opening to use lethal force to stop them, do you take it?
3. What if you’re alone in a parking garage and a mugger threatens you with a knife and demands your wallet or purse? Do you hand it over, or do you fight?
I’ll come out and let you know how I feel about it. If I or my friends or family are attacked and I see the opening, I will take it. To my way of thinking, I’ve had the training for this. The next person the attacker holds up probably hasn’t. My actions could determine whether or not the attacker gets a chance at that next person.
So what about you? What if you had the training and the skill to fight against a mugger or an invader in your home? What if you had an opportunity to defend yourself against the violence of another person, but only if you react just as violently? What if you saw a loved one being attacked? A child?