Dancing with Darkness: The Reality of Conflict


Let me continue a bit on the discussion of my last post:

I had an interesting conversation with a member of my group (Kyusho-jitsu Kenkyukai, KJK for short). He was telling me about how troubling an experience it is when you realize the reality of conflict, that you have both the skills to take a life, and the will necessary to employ those skills. It is the moment when you become the kind of person who is actually capable of killing.

Most of us start martial arts training because of a fantasy about martial arts. We imagine we are going to learn what the movie ratings people call “stylized violence.” Stylized violence is noble, fair, cool, exciting, even fun. Real violence is messy and brutal. At some point, the true martial artist must come to grips with this messy, brutal reality. I call this “dancing with the dark side.”

In order to be true martial artists, we must accept violence, accept that we are studying methods whose purpose is ultimately the harm of other human beings, accept that we have the capacity to cause such harm.

This applies even to our training. To do a pressure point knock out, one has to accept that – safe as they are to perform – our training partners might be injured. And, when we practice the more dangerous techniques (toate-no-waza being among the more dangerous) we have to accept that someone might be hurt, and be willing for our training partners to suffer harm at our hands.

This is a difficult step in the development of a martial artist. It involves finding a way to accept violence, finding the capacity to commit violence, finding the willingness to act violently, and finding the ability to control that violence. It means learning how to resolve the warrior’s contradiction – to be able to kill when necessary without becoming a mere killer, to be able to cause injury to others while maintaining the strength of character to never cause such injury unless it is absolutely necessary and right. It is brutal power coupled with moral control, and it is a difficult task to master.

Now, most people who practice a martial art never have to face the reality of conflict. They practice their fantasy of stylized violence, imagining confrontations which result in winning without any harm, and without feelings of sorrow, or regret on their part. They imagine victory without cost, victory which results in everyone becoming friends and drinking tea together. And maybe that is fine for them, but I practice a classical art – tode-jitsu – an art which is about the reality of conflict and the desire to somehow survive such a reality with one’s life and character intact. I practice an art which is, at its heart, about dancing with the dark side.