Pursuing the outcome you want, not fighting the one you don’t

Self-protection programming—even those programs derived from a martial arts background—need not focus on learning to be violent. Let’s talk about violence for a bit, watch a couple of short videos of conflicts, ask what good martial artists (and ninjas) train to do, and discuss the way that Elemental accomplishes those goals.

The Japanese term “budo” is often crudely translated as “martial arts,” and is an umbrella term for a wide array of practice systems: karate-do, judo, kendo, iaido, etc. To-shin Do, the ninjutsu-based art from which Elemental is strongly derived, is one of these systems. When most people think of these arts, they think of violence and war—which is understandable, given the common translation. A better translation of budo, however, might be “way to end violence.” Ways to stop violent situations vary by time and circumstance; some are not inherently “right” or “wrong,” but might be better or worse for a given context, or simply different. Solutions need not always involve escalation and further violence, which can be inefficient and increase the risk of outcomes that are contrary to our goals—which might include peace, order, and compassion.

Let’s compare a couple of examples of how violence might be stopped. Imagine a fight taking place inside of an enclosed space with lots of bystanders—say, inside of a subway or light rail car. Imagine that you want to stop the fight. Which of the following examples would be closer to what you would choose? Why? (Warning, videos contain strong language. Also note that this is meant as a heuristic exercise in resolving violence; the initial fights themselves are by no means equivalent to each other.)

Example #1

Example #2

The ninja way includes keeping your ultimate goal in mind and making sure that all of your actions are ideally congruent with that goal. Threats are often not confronted directly; after all, why block a violent act—like a punch—when there are so many “safe spaces” to create and to occupy that will allow the attack to fail? Why not choose a subtle approach if a subtle approach is better? Why focus on beating an attacker when the real goal is to win?

In the case of Elemental, the analogous threat is sexual (or gender-based) violence. We must recognize the availability and importance of all of the desirable outcomes that do not constitute sexual violence, and the different paths that can lead us there. Those are our safe spaces. Given the circumstances, what are our goals? To get to lights and people in a public space? To bring in a bystander? To meet people and be friendly, but not physically intimate? To preserve a friendship or other relationship? To defuse an awkward situation and still feel good about how things went the next day? To stop the manipulative pressure that someone is applying? To have a particular kind of consensual sexual encounter?

All of these constitute different kinds of “safe spaces,” many of which can be reached with the right attention, timing, positioning, and words. Many may never require a knee strike or a palm-heel to the nose. Elemental focuses on training in the former while acknowledging that, for some people in some circumstances, the latter may be the best option. All can be effective; peer-reviewed evidence for our own program and others suggests so. However, we are far more interested in what can be gained through approaches like eating chips (well, other than additional pounds) than by drawing a katana in a crowded rail car.

That is one path to ending violence—and that is good budo. We aren’t fighting the threat. We are achieving our own goals. Rather than making knee-jerk destructive reactions, we make choices that get us to safe space. That is the difference between creating weapons and empowering champions.

~The Directors


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