Fight or flight. Stay the course or precipitous withdrawal. Our public discussion is confined to various versions of these supposed opposites but there are other ways to deal with violence, other ways to think about conflict.
Terry Dobson was one of the first Western students of the founder of aikido, Ueshiba Osensei, and a gifted teacher himself. Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get Your Way by Terry Dobson and Victor Miller
(Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1978, 1993 ISBN 1-55643-151-1) is his attempt to adapt the physical techniques of aikido to the psychology of our daily struggles. The core idea Dobson and Miller explain is that there are more options.
(33-34) ...in any conflict situation we have the following options open to us:
- Fighting Back
- Doing Nothing
- Aiki (Confluence)
Of course, they like aiki/confluence the best but it also the most difficult to recognize, achieve, and explain within our current culture.
(xii) One, conflict is neither bad not good, it simply is; two, conflict is absolutely necessary to almost every life process; three, people need training in how to respond effectively and appropriately to conflict situations. For far too long we've had a single view of conflict: that it is bad and that it demands a winner and a loser.
This is a concept which I've also seen examined in Macedonia: What Does It Take to Stop a War? but it is not an idea that has wide provenance in our present public debate.
(6) ...over the years, we've let the win/lose frame of reference shift into areas of our lives that are not contests. Tennis, football, hockey, and volleyball are contests; they have rules and scores. Sex, fame, love, appreciation, maturity, and child-raising (to name a few areas of human behavior) are not contests, do not have uniform rules, and never did have scores until we began keeping them.
(23) The next time you sense that your attacker is disguising the real issue, calmly ask "Is this what's really bothering you, or is there something else?" Our experience shows us that, at the very least, the attacker will stop dead in his or her tracks for a few seconds. The more reasonable, self-aware attacker will concede your point. The less self-aware will charge forward on the trivial point but without as much determination as before.
A great example of this is the crux of Terry Dobson's most famous story, the subway story.
(38) Fighting Back is your last resort... Fight Back when it is a question of life or death (yours or someone else's) and you have no other options open to you.
Our culture is one where fighting has become our first resort.
(40) Never Fight Back against anyone who has nothing to lose.
Republicans these days always fight as if they have nothing to lose or as if they are willing to lose everything. They proclaim it is principle but I believe it is a tactic, a front to scare their opponents, the Democrats.
One thing to remember when engaged with a partner who seems to have nothing to lose is probably Sun Tzu's advice that a wise general always leaves the opposing force an apparent escape route. This fits the proverbial idea that a rat is most dangerous when cornered.
Al Qaeda also fight as if they have nothing to lose but, in their case, it may be true or, at least, truer.
(43) ...every vanquished foe is a potential adversary.
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” Abraham Lincoln
(46) ...the restoration of harmony is the goal of all conflict.
Not death. Not destruction. Not surrender.
(52) Withdrawal is an appropriate response in the following kinds of situations:
When all else fails and an escape route is open to you.
(53) When time and place are wrong.
There should be no shame in refusing to fight, especially on terms and ground that are obviously disadvantageous to you. However, we have a culture that prides itself on not backing down, whatever that means.
(59) Parley is most effective when you are involved in a no-win situation.
Recognizing a no-win situation in a culture that sees only win/lose is a fundamental problem.
(67) Doing Nothing is appropriate when you need time... In short, the attacker has chosen the time and place and also dictates the rhythm of the conflict. Attackers count on your dancing to their metronome, so your refusal to do that can be a highly effective response.
Doing Nothing is an appropriate response when you want to find out what's really going on behind the attack... Attackers find it hard to stop.
(68) Doing Nothing is one of the best responses of all when an attack makes no sense, when it is totally absurd. Rather than dignify that attack by reacting, you Do Nothing.
Our culture abhors stillness and silence. With our hysterical news channels screaming 24/7, the idea of doing nothing is infuriating anathema.
(71) Deception (and its partner, surprise) is for buying time, not for solving problems.
Time is intimately related to rhythm. One of my teachers has taught me that in sparring you have to mix up your rhythm, change your timing. If you don't, you become predictable and will get hit. He also taught me the importance of moving when your partner blinks. It then seems as if you've got superhuman speed. [Thanks, Arthur.]
(73) When the time and place are wrong, Deception can be your best option.
Deception can be best employed when you want to surprise an opponent, break his line of intention, or catch him off guard.
(83) When the boss yells at you or someone insults you, you must pay primary attention to restoring your center, not to striking back or running like a dervish.
This is possibly the most important idea here. Few of us in this culture cultivate a center, know where our point of balance is most of the time. We are buffeted by events and fall from one incident into another, off balance and staggering. If you have a center and can keep in touch with it, you will retain your balance even under assault. This is what you practice when you practice aikido - keeping your center and taking your partner's.
(84) TV's situation comedies are built around characters being off center!
Th dominant culture is decentering and addictive. It educates us to ineptitude. This is especially true for men. Men are treated like complete buffoons and big babies in most situation comedies and commercials. It is a characteristic that I have observed for the last 50 years. I noticed it when I was seven or eight years old and it disturbed me then. It disgusts me now.
(99) In the physical realm of martial arts there is always that brief moment when, because of the defender's response, the attacker loses his balance. At that precise moment, the defender is in charge and must take care of the attacker, helping him to a new, firmer, less aggressive balance.
Sometimes that response is merely a slight shifting of the center so the intended strike continues beyond the attacker's balance. All that is necessary then is a little encouragement and the attacker will fall.
(107) Aiki is composed of two basic actions: confluence - joining with the attack to empathize with the attacker and get out of his way - and lead - bringing the attacker back to balance.
(108) Every attacker has a right to his feelings; they may be based on an "incorrect" deduction from the facts, but the attacker is still feeling them. You cannot lead him to a "correct" perception without first becoming confluent with the perception he is experiencing.
In short, Attack-tics demands that you respect your attacker's rights and privileges while still protecting your own.
This is another aspect of the adage "Know thy enemy." You have to respect your enemy as well. I knew that we were headed for deep, deep trouble as a nation when I saw the hysterical Republicans adamantly refuse to study Al Qaeda after 9/11 and denigrate as traitors those who would. Such stupidity goes against every idea of strategy and tactics.
(115) Destroyed people make bad enemies.
"Beware who you chose as an enemy, for you will become like them."
(133) [Mother/Daughter Parley Scenario]
You asked questions to hep your mother reframe what had happened so that both of you could consider the event from a common point. Best of all, you waited to say that you were not sleeping around until the very end, because you knew that if you'd said it at the beginning your mother would have considered the Parley over. That's really all she wanted to hear, but you needed to have her hear the other points as well. Most people begin by defending themselves: "I'm not sleeping around...." They end up losing the audience they want to address.
Defensiveness can be a signal you've lost your center. Leading with a defense on the point of contention can result in a seesaw argument, "Yes, you did" followed by "No, I didn't" ad infinitum.
(142-143) When you start using Aiki you begin to learn that often people's stated needs or desires are exactly the opposite of what they really want. Often the mother who asks her children to leave her alone wants their attention. Often the worker who talks about quitting wants more work, more recognition. But if you argue with someone's stated feelings, telling them they really don't want to do what they say they want to do, nine times out of ten they'll go ahead and do it. If you use Aiki instead, letting them reach their own conclusions, then the real underlying need will eventually surface. They will turn right around and admit they want the children or they want you or they want whatever. We'll bet that hundreds of thousands of "wrong" choices are made every day because people feel pushed into them by the opposition of friends and colleagues and lovers.
In some ways, this can be considered the flip side of projection.
(147-148) The shortest distance between you and anything else is a straight line. Between you and another person, this line runs from heart to heart.
(157) [Geometry of attack] Now all you need to do, besides practicing that feeling, is to remind yourself - right in the middle of a conflict - that you are a triangle (if that is the response you've chosen). You'll be surprised how your body can respond to that command. Notice that you don't talk to yourself in slogans: "Keep your guard up!" "Stop being such a namby-pamby!" Your spirit can't react quickly to that kind of exhortation. Those kinds of expressions are defeatist, complicated, and unusable. The triangular shape contains within it all you need to function.
The symbols Dobson uses, triangle for attack, square for doing nothing, circle for aiki, are traditional teaching images in aikido.
(174) Any serious attack moves from the attacker to the target along a straight line...
In the body, a kick or punch may be more effective if there is a twist at the end of that straight line attack, a snap of the wrist or the ankle to add force to the striking surface. Human movement can be thought of as a spiral around a vector.
(175) ...the stronger the attack the easier it is for you to handle.
Hard to believe?
We're asking you to accept that your survival prognosis is far better if somebody really jumps all over you. It happens to be true. The more committed your attacker is, the easier it is for you to handle him if you're centered.... See him coming straight at you along that line [point of the triangle]. Imagine the force, will, and intention all focused along that arrow. Know, then, that when someone attacks you along that line, you have 358 directions you can go in to deal safely and simply with the attacker - every direction, in fact, except north or south.
On the mat, we call this a committed attack. When you are committed to the attack, the attacker is out of options. They have decided on their line of movement and make your decision easy.
(181) The hurricane of miracles blows perpetually. Day and night the phenomenon surges around us on all sides, and (not least marvelous) all without disturbing the majestic tranquility of the Creation. This tumult is harmony. Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare
(194) Always keep an attacker between you and another attacker. In other words use on attacker to shield you from another.
(195) Throughout the maneuver, you never allow yourself to believe you're surrounded.
When practicing freestyle with multiple attackers in the dojo this is literally true. In the best practices, you become a spinning top that uses centripetal and centrifugal force to bring your attackers into your grasp and throw them away. You can choose who attacks you and when and, sometimes, you can feel as if you are surrounding four or five attackers at once. Unbelievable but true. I've experienced it myself once of twice.
(208) One of the most sensible, structured ways we've found to design a plan comes from theater practice, from a method attributed to Knostantin Stanislavski, the great Russian teacher and director. In this method there are three points to deal with:
- Objective: what you want
- Obstacle: why you can't have it
- Action: what you do to get it
(211) Fritz Redl, the great child psychologist, has written about children to whom love is a real threat. They require conflict for stability.
Hmm, sound like any society you know of?
(228) You do no one a favor by letting an important issue go unresolved.
(238) One experiment we're especially fond of is asking people to walk forward while thinking backward. Try it. Walk along at your normal gait but imagine at the same time that you're going in the opposite direction.
You can also walk backward while thinking forward. In fact, there are some aikido techniques that make use of this very quality. It is somewhat difficult to learn, as is everything in aikido, but can be devastating when practiced correctly.
(248) The need for revenge is gone because their reconnection with their own centers has put them back into connection with all life. The protective spirit has to do with that union of life with life.
Spirit is also rooted in the present, a function of the intersection of time with your own energy. Spirit is not Then or Soon; spirit is Right This Minute. You can't save spirit or reflect on it, because it is like Thales' [or Heraclitus'?] moving stream.
Ueshiba Osensei called aikido the art of peace (there is a book of quotations from Ueshiba Osensei edited by John Stevens of that title which is quite worth studying). Aikido is often translated as the way of harmonizing energy, where way is the same kanji as Tao. On the mat, there is great joy when technique becomes effortless as aikido teaches you to move to that point where there can be no resistance. Response to an attack is relaxed and easy. You begin to realize that a turn of the hips or an extension of an arm can allow the full power of a crushing blow to pass by without touching. All you feel is a breeze from the movement and then you can follow that attack past its balance point and control your partner with a weightless hand. It takes years of practice but it is well worth it.
We talk about hard power and soft power on the global stage but I wish we thought in terms of harmonizing power the way we do on the mat. Once, I gave Joe Nye, one of the major theorists of soft power, a copy of The Art of Peace and urged him, at his advanced age, to try aikido. He told me he read the book but I don't believe he could understand it without setting foot on the mat. We live in a violent world. Conflict is all around us. Aikido, physically and theoretically, offers us tools with which we can calm some of that violence and resolve some of those conflicts.
Previous diary on Terry Dobson's Aikido Journey. There's a story about purity of intention there that I commend to your kind attention.