Saturday, June 14, 2008

The pre-requisites to do violence

In police training and violence theory there is this idea that in order for someone to violently aggress against you they must have these three things:
  • the ability to hurt you
  • the opportunity to hurt you
  • the intent to hurt you
There is some flex in this theory. For instance, you can reasonably assume that almost everybody in the world has the ability to hurt you. Anyone can put a finger in your eye or trip you if you are not careful. Also, intent is hard to judge and people can hurt other people randomly without intent. But for the most part, the theory holds. In order for someone to do violence against you they mostly have to have ability, opportunity, and intent.
It seems to me (and this may just be my perception or mis-perception) that most martial arts these days are overly focused on removing the opponent’s ability to hurt you as rapidly as possible. You can’t go to a martial arts class without hearing the old axe, “if they can’t see they can't fight, if they can’t walk they can’t fight, if they can't breathe they can’t fight.” There is this emphasis on disabling or killing by producing maximum damage as rapidly as possible.
And that is certainly a valid, though maybe overzealous, method of dealing with violent people.
But what about the other two legs of the violence tripod – intent and opportunity? We need to be working more on making ourselves the kind of people that other folks have no reason to intend to hurt (Romans 12:18), and we need to learn to disrupt the opponents’ opportunities to harm us. If people have no intent nor opportunity to harm us then it is not necessary to disable them. In fact, if you are very good at removing any one of these three prerequisites to violence then you are much safer and better off.
Aikido seems to me mostly about dealing with opportunity. We are constantly shifting our position relative to the attacker to remove his opportunities to attack. We keep our distance, evade, brush-off, cover or clench to dampen his potential, push him away so he can’t reach us. Of course, while the student is learning to evade, avoid, and brush-off, he is learning all the old jujitsu tricks to create leverage to disable the opponent (remove his ability to do harm). Aikido, as a form of jujitsu, has the potential to seriously hurt someone, but typically that potential is held in reserve in case we are not able to stop the opponent’s intent or opportunity.


  1. Very well put, Sir Patriclus. I myself am a strong proponent of non violent action when it is possible--though i readily acquiesce that there are times when violence is the only probable answer, and it seems to me that within the art of aikido (as well as other martial arts) is a gift of choice. Aikido lends itself to, if not completely non violent reaction, then at least to a more controlled form of reaction wherein tori has the ability to resolve conflict in as peaceful a manner as possible. We have a choice (once again, i acknowledge exceptions to this) within conflict as to whether or not to injure and maim, and within this choice is incredible power and responsibility.

  2. For sure, all of those points are valid. My own instructor emphasizes that running like a bunny is a valid self-defense technique. And to be sure, there's a lot of force in your suggestion that we work harder on being the sort of people that others find no reason to fight.

    On the other hand...

    You may have heard of the two girls that were killed in Oklahoma within the last week. Aged 13 and 11. Their bodies were found in a field, some time after they had gone for a walk in broad daylight. Their father found them when they didn't come back in a reasonable period of time. One of his friends said that he hasn't stopped crying since.

    Two different firearms were used. So far, there are no leads and this is the interesting thing to me: know what one of the leading theories for motive is? Thrill killing. The possibility is being seriously considered that these two little girls were killed by a couple of thugs--who knows, maybe high as a kite--for the sheer thrill of it. And you know, that wouldn't be the only such case I've heard of over the last few years.

    Some people in this world are just nuts, and it doesn't have anything to do with you. You may just happen to be occupying the wrong piece of real estate at the wrong time. So while it is certainly true that defusing aggression can go a long way toward keeping one's rear out of fights (it's certainly worked for me), it's also true that all options must remain on the table, because some people just literally aren't open to reason.

  3. that's true, dan, and a terrible example of the truth of it. There are people whose particular form of evil is that you don't have to do anything to them for them to develop intent to do violence to you. For these folks, you can't work the intent part of the triangle. But you could work the opportunity and ability sides.

    there are holes in any model or theory but it seems to me that the ability-opportunity-intent model holds for the most part.

    In your example it would be hard to say exactly how to do it, but if those girls had been able to remove the killers' opportunity, intent, or abiltiy to do harm they might still be alive.

    I was also not suggesting that we not study disabling/killing, but that we study all three sides of that triangle with greater balance.

  4. Pat -

    That's something I always wondered about. Most stuff I read on aikido touts it as "the pacifist's martial art." Yet you yourself just said the jujitsu options for disabling are at your disposal...

    Given the pacifist's bent it always leaves me with the impression that an akidoist will keep redirecting an attack or attempt to make the person tap and give up.

    The thing is the street is different from the dojo. In the dojo you tap. Not so on the street. After four year's worth of watching knucklehead inmates beat on each other I can tell you that many might tap, then get back up and keep swinging. And it gets worse with multiple attackers. (and I know aikido prides itself on dealing with multiples--I'm talking about disabling versus re-directing or submitting)

    So I am putting more into the philosophy than most people who practice the art? Or am I just wrong!


  5. Bob,
    I can't speak for Pat, but what I would do is develop the mental intent to carry the technique beyond the tap into breaking the limb. This is what I train in my taijiquan.

    You condition your nervous system through repetition to the extent that pressure enough to tap or snap is only a ounce or two difference. Then the choice is yours.

    If breaking the limb isn't enough, choking them out hopefully will be. Gotta love judo for that.

    And even if you do all the above, you still haven't killed anyone so you can remain a pacifist, at least of sorts. :)

  6. bob, from my point of view (and this may not be representative)pacifists are kinda nutty folks that would like to transcend the physical, etc...

    the 'pacifist' strategies in aikido that you refer to, like avoiding instead of engaging, holding the techniques in reserve, etc... are done not so much in an attempt to be sweet to the attacker but to gain a strategic advantage. The techniques simply work better if you attend to these first things first (like avoidance).

    so, again from my POV, i don't think aiki is a pacifist thing as much as it is a keep-yourself-safe-and-intact-thing. self defense instead of punishing the bad guy.

    And I agree there will be situations where you have to jujitsu the guy's arm off his body (or worse) to stop him but that's not the core of what we're studying

  7. I read somewhere there are styles of aikido--30 to be exact.

    As for the pacifists, well, I tend to agree. Nice notion but not realistic considering that medical science has yet to cure the criminally insane. Some folks--especially the crazy ones--just can't be reasoned with.

    My old taekwondo instructor is studying aikido and he talks a lot about using the techniques to set someone up for something from taekwondo.

    Anyhow, there just may be a post in all of this. If I get the time this week...



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