A friend of mine used to be a bouncer at a pub. One day, the pub owner called him into his office and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to let you go.” My friend said, “I don’t understand. I win every fight that I get into.” The pub owner replied, “That’s the problem. You keep getting into fights.”
A lot of people misunderstand the martial arts as simply being methods for fighting. While this is obviously true, it is also only the most superficial interpretation of any combative practice. If we look deeper, martial art training should actually give us the ability to neutralize violence, to end it quickly or even before it starts, so that there is no conflict, there is no battle, and there is no fight to speak of.
Neutralizing conflict is not the same as avoiding it, however. One interpretation of the Japanese word for martial arts, ‘budo,’ literally, ‘the way of stopping the spear,’ is that we put down our own spears as a way of making peace and circumventing violence, but this type of pacifism relies solely on the mercy of those with whom we are potentially in conflict, leaving us exposed with no recourse should they deny our pleas for peace. Another, more practical interpretation of the word budo is that it means the ability to stop the violence of others with our own spears.
We cannot truly create or even choose peace unless we also have the ability to destroy because mercy lies in the hands of the capable, not the inept. The martial arts, then, are methods for learning how to use our spears effectively so that we can give others the choice to not make us have to do so. Paradoxically, the easiest way to achieve peace in this way is to not create the perception of conflict in the first place, to never even show our spears and that is why the Japanese also say that budo begins and ends with courtesy, with respect, with a bow.
Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.
Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.
Street art photo taken by Robert Van Valkenburgh, artist unknown unless otherwise noted.
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