Midnight in the Garden of War and Peace

That is the balance one must strike, to be actively engaged in overall improvement or passively benefitting from the struggle of others.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Pacifism is a luxury provided by the diligence of those willing to engage in controlled violence. That is far from ideal but that's real. This is not to say that I like this truth or believe that this is the best way it should be, I am merely stating an observation that is self-evident. Should we as a society always strive for less violence? Yes. But denying the nature of things to skew our worldview will not end violence or bring around utopian pacifism, for in that attempt, we will only make things worse. Whitewashing the unpleasant aspects of nature because one disagrees with it will only allow those negative aspects to flourish. How can we tend to weeds if we deny there are any? Or that there is even a need for tending? Whenever the scales tip one way, what nature has always proven: there will eventually be an equal and extreme backlash.

The Gardener at War

(Battle of Broodseinde | Ernest Brooks)

(Battle of Broodseinde | Ernest Brooks)

While practicing his katas in his master's garden, a pupil asked his teacher, "Would it not be more tranquil and serene to be a gardener and tend the plants?"

"Tending the garden," the master replied, "is a relaxing pastime, but it does not prepare one for the inevitable battles of life. It is easy to be calm in a serene setting. To be calm and serene when under attack is much more difficult; therefore, I tell you that it is far better to be a warrior tending his garden rather than a gardener at war."

Black belt and philosopher, John Danaher says this:

I think not just jiu-jitsu but all of the sporting martial arts, have a very valuable social function. When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy to think that we advocate a sport that is so tied in with violence. Violence is usually seen as a very negative thing. No one proudly says, ‘I condone violence.’ We would look at them like they were some kind of crazy one. And yet jiu-jitsu is undoubtedly linked to violence. It’s the art of strangling people and breaking people’s limbs. It’s a violent activity.

We look down on violence in every other sphere, whether it be crime, warfare or what have you. Anyone who says, ‘I’m anti-violence,’ most people would agree with. I’m involved in a violent sport … but generally, I’m a pacifist. Let’s go back to that idea of a Darwinian world. We live in a world where there is a massive population and a limited set of resources. And so the idea of competitive violence is inextricably woven into human existence. You couldn’t be a pacifist on this planet and expect to survive. Imagine an animal with completely pacifistic tendencies. They’d be wiped out in the first generation. Lions, tigers, hyenas would eat it. It would be gone.

We must consider here, that even the act of eating life-forms, whether they be animal or plant, is violence. To protect our crops, we will defend it against competing species which want to eat our food. Our ancestors had to eat animals and use their hides to keep warm during the ice age, for us to have the ability to sustain ourselves only on our crops. To build homes, we must take it from whatever is living there and ensure they can never return.

Life is a zero-sum game; energy transfers from one body to another. We have always competed for that energy. This is the natural cycle. For there to be zero footprint of harm, everything must stop existing. Making it appear benign or indirect does not change the state of play. This is only to change how we feel, not to change the effect.

Danaher continues:

The few pacifist societies that exist on earth only exist because they were protected around the outside by more violent elements of their same society. They couldn’t have survived by themselves. And so a certain amount of violence is absolutely necessary to guarantee human existence. It’s a competitive world. If you can’t compete, you’re not going to make it.

But too much violence is itself destructive. Eternal warfare would wipe out a civilization just as surely as complete pacifism. And so humans have to strike a balance between their desire to avoid violence and their ability to engage in it. And the martial arts is the perfect example of finding a happy median between the two. Yes, what we deal with is competition and violence. But it’s put into an atmosphere where you can take away the negative elements of violence. There’s no serious injuries, there’s no death, there’s no stealing of property. It’s an honorable and safe form of violent activity. And so it raises a generation of people who are capable of defending themselves in a violent world but will not promote violence.

It sublimates the dangerous aspects of violence, criminal behavior, violent behavior, warfare. And makes them work within a peaceful social setting. And so good citizens can be good jiu-jitsu players. They could easily survive in a violent, competitive atmosphere. They have the skills to do so.

Pacifism isn't a reality, it is an intent. To try and maximize the least amount of harm one can do. This takes discipline and training. This must be balanced with activism, being actively engaged in doing what is necessary to promote the overall good. This takes discipline and training. Virtues, morals, and ethics exist to guide us in doing not what is perfect, but in doing what is right. There will never be best-case scenarios; then proper training is essential.

Neither seek nor shun the fight.
— Old Gaelic Proverb
(In 1812 | Illarion Pryanishnikov)

(In 1812 | Illarion Pryanishnikov)

At Midnight...

There will be times to be passive, but when there are wrongs, there will be times to be active. At its root is peace and conflict. Conflict can be physical and violent, but it can also be emotional, financial; conflict can be a type of duress, a nonviolent subjugation, or institutional oppression. Conflict can be a matter of principle. It is best to avoid conflict but sometimes it is wrong to avoid conflict. That is the balance one must strike, to be actively engaged in overall improvement or passively benefitting from the struggle of others.

When we train in the martial arts, what we are training for is some form of encounter with the Other. A generalized unknown where we don't know what their intent is. We train to bow and shake hands, then if need be, control the Other and defend ourselves. If all goes well, we shake hands again, bow, or in the West, we give them a hug. It's a validation of the Other's existence: I see you, you see me, I respect you, you respect me, let us both exist.

There is much touching in martial arts, a degree of intimacy that we must accustom ourselves to. We can try to keep our space but sometimes situations will be intense and beyond comfort. We may want space but the Other may not, we may want peace but the Other may not. One cannot train without a partner, that means our control is always divided amongst variables beyond ourselves. We can be whatever we need be and so will the outside world. When there is a disagreement of being, that is conflict. Being a pure pacifist in a world that is not, is as conflicting as being violent in a world that is not. There will be suffering. When the world is no longer in contrast, the world will cease to exist.

(Man Bowing to a Woman | Alfred Grévin)

(Man Bowing to a Woman | Alfred Grévin)

The bow or hug before and after training binds us to the Other, that we are not separate but are one. Just as you are the Other to me, I am the Other to you. Then sometimes it is we who need to be controlled and sometimes it is we who need to be embraced. This is the only means to coexist. Rather than utopia, this measured balance of existence is what we should strive for.

Useful Companions to This Article: