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Given the state of the world in 2020, I’ve been thinking a lot about care lately—for self, for others, for society, for the planet. This thinking, perhaps paradoxically, lead me to think of martial arts. When fighting, as in all forms of competition, you are actually taking care of two people, your opponent and yourself. This can mean several different things depending on the situation. Before discussing some additional factors, let’s consider the care that needs to be applied to a one-on-one fight:
- You must take care by paying attention to your opponent and reacting. Their aggression dictates specific defensive actions; their yielding dictates specific offensive actions. Observing your opponent carefully, and adapting to their strategies and techniques, gives you opportunities to win a fight. Disregarding your opponent will allow them to get the upper hand by allowing them to disguise their movements and intentions.
- You must take care by controlling yourself in a fight. You must not expend too much energy, or you will tire. You must not fall prey to taunts or other emotional manipulations, or you will make mistakes. You must not get distracted, or your opponent will seize on your lack of focus.
- You must take care by guiding the fight to an appropriate resolution. You should not use an inappropriate amount of force. To win, you must be wise, directing the conflict toward the desired outcome. You must not be docile—you will lose—but you must be empathetic and as gentle as possible, leading your opponent to their defeat as gracefully as possible. Remember that defeat has many definitions and does not necessitate annihilation.
This mindset will play out differently based on the type of fight. Following are examples that support the above three tenants of caring conflict.
- Caring for a sparring partner should be obvious. The axiom “iron sharpens iron” applies. If you spar too hard, you will hurt one another, curtailing your training. Bad blood may also brew if you do not care for your fellow martial artists in the gym or dojo. This brand of unpopularity will leave you no one with which to train. Considering that my seven-year-old son has been my main sparring partner throughout quarantine, I have learned a whole new level of control. Caring for him while teaching him combat will be one more way to advance the martial arts, I hope.
- Caring for an opponent in a sport fight is less obvious but still important. In a ring or cage, the object is to win. Winners advance their careers and make a better living. Winning in a devastating fashion accelerates the process. However, your opponent deserves your respect. Consider the dedication and sacrifice that helped you to achieve in your sport. Consider all of those whom supported you. Consider that the person standing across from you traveled the same path. Yes, you must fight to win, but you must honor their efforts as well and never forget how they came to meet you.
- Caring for an attacker in a self defense situation is the most difficult to unpack. However, considering the three prior points can help you assess the severity of the situation, overcome your opponent by using your training, and end the conflict as safely as possible. If threatened, you have the ability to avoid most conflicts; if attacked, you have the right to subdue your opponent to ensure your survival. Remember, though, the legal and emotional ramifications of using excessive force. For example, as a male school teacher with a martial arts background, I have been called to break up fights. I have felt threatened and have been attacked. I have never harmed a student while defending myself. Thanks to my ability to care for my aggressors, I have had the power to end violence without resorting to more violence.
Let’s apply these principals on a larger scale. What is the best way to “dominate the battle space”, if you are so inclined? To subdue an enemy so completely that they will bend low and submit? For many of us, the answer should be obvious.
The superior combatant will shepherd the enemy to a peaceful resolution. The true warrior will recognize the same will to fight in the opponent and the same ultimate desire for peace. Until the conflict resolves, the master will act with wisdom and restraint, not escalating aggression any more than necessary. Please remember this in your training and if called upon to use it.
Please take care out there.