I do not deny that we live in a violent world with dangerous people. I openly recognize that the purest forms of pacifism, while completely admirable, are probably not the best self-defense solutions. The moral victory of enduring an assault, in my mind, is almost as unproductive as a philosophy that skews toward the uber-violent end of the spectrum. Before the historians in the audience send me hate mail: I am speaking specifically about one-to-one violence, not non-violent activism in a grander political context like we saw with Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.
If I or someone I love is attacked, I will defend myself and/or them. What I love about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, however, is that I can match the intensity of my response with the intensity of the situation. In the case of striking arts like Krav Maga, the reaction is to always assume that your life is in danger so bite his balls and scoop out his retinas. With jiu-jitsu, I can subdue a friend that has had too much to drink or I can permanently cripple someone that has every intention of ending my life.
In this way, jiu-jitsu gives me the tools to practice pacifism in the most practical way that I can imagine. I only need to be as violent as the situation warrants. I can use what I know about violence to attempt to defuse the problem rather than escalating the situation with my own aggression.
Don’t Get Dead
Ultimately though, the more I train the more I appreciate just how fragile the human body is. I was raised by Rambo movies and spent many nights stealthily watching Tango & Cash while my parents slept, so for some time I had this idea that fights were these grand endeavors where two guys could duke it out for 10 minutes and then limp away to recover.
I now know that our bodies are horribly designed fighting machines. We break easily and it is far too easy to die, even if you are a talented fighter.
When I was a freshman in college, I faced this reality when my childhood neighbor (who was a year older than me and attended a larger school in another state) got into a fight at a party. The argument escalated, it got physical and the night ended with my neighbor bleeding out on a trashy college town porch. One day R.J. was my cocky soccer team captain, the next day I was looking down at him in a coffin.
For many months after that, I obsessed over knife defense and the more I dug into the subject the more I had to accept that death was a much closer probability than I had originally thought. A knife is a simple weapon to wield and we are covered in soft flesh and essential life-sustaining pieces. Even without knives involved, hitting your head on the pavement or the edge of the bar is a quick way to go dark forever. Factor in the potential for broken bottles or buddies that sneak up behind you or the random patriot with a handgun tucked in his pants and you have a slew of potential life-enders that have almost nothing to do with how fit you are or how long you have trained.
In the end, the best form of self-defense is to avoid violence altogether. That’s an old saying, but so few in our community actively live and promote that pacifist notion. If one of the goals of jiu-jitsu is to protect ourselves and the ones we love from violence, we need to talk more about the value of leaving machismo behind and seeking peaceful resolutions.
To end, let me share one of my favorite pieces of hate mail: “Marshal. You seem like a pussy.”
There, I saved you an email.