Actually talking about integrating my shadow and violence and whatnot. When I was on the last Aikido course where R graded I found myself contemplating violence. I’ve practiced martial arts for half my life and I find myself arguing online with people, including close friends, that punching people for their political views just isn’t acceptable.
So there I was on the mat and my hakama is made of this heavy cotton and it’s hot, so I’m sat there as Sensei is demonstrating and I’m hot, bothered, sweaty, tired, sore. I’ve had two days of just being battered. We have this thing “never forget that people died to create these techniques” and I was there contemplating all these people in feudal Japan who died in all these battles and wars and the absurdity of “making nazis afraid again” just by punching them hit me.
Human beings will go into battle totally shitting themselves, face another human being carrying a weapon and get into a life or death fight and people actually think that just punching someone will make them afraid enough to never express themselves publicly. It was the same day that the Catalans had their independence vote and during lunch I was checking out the news on my phone and looking at the video of riot police battering people to try and prevent the vote and I found myself thinking that ultimately the riot police weren’t changing anything. It was an irrelevance. The violence was pointless.
No doubt the Catalonians were afraid but they weren’t going to be stopped by their fear. Human beings are stronger than that.
So I find this “punching Nazis” thing so absurd. I think that it’s something dreamt up by people who have no real experience of violence and also have a real fear of violence. They’ve never been punched, they’ve never been in a proper brawl and so they imagine that violence is actually more powerful than it really is.
My mind is a violent place, my mind immediately wants to respond violently to a whole range of problems but experience and training have taught me that really this is an ego driven response. People imagine themselves beating a nazi and getting public adulation for it and feeling really good and validated by this and the now fearful nazi cowering submissively and they really get off on this fantasy. The problem is that real violence and real people’s response to violence has no relationship to this fantasy of violence that they have.
In reality no one is going to like you for hitting someone. In fact they’re going to be afraid of you, they’re not going to want to be around someone who responds violently to nonviolence and if you’re the kind of person that actually hits nonviolent people you’re generally not that well balanced. You’re habitually violent and the nazi isn’t going to be afraid, they’re going to be hurt, angry and looking for revenge and things have already been escalated to violence so the result will be violent.
So, to me, this “punch a nazi” thing is just so much adolescent fantasy. It’s the same fantasy that leads young men into the martial arts: you beat up the bad guy and you win the girl. You become strong and powerful and righteous and people like you. It’s the kind of stuff you should grow out of by the age of twenty-five and yet I see guys in their late thirties and forties enthusiastically propagating the idea.
It doesn’t at all fit with my reality of violence, that feeling of pained exhaustion, that feeling of the borderline futility of violence that comes from practicing violence for year after year. It’s not glamorous, it doesn’t make you popular, you’re not going to get the girl and the other guy isn’t going to be afraid of you. In fact we know that if you want to make a bully then bullying someone is a pretty good method of doing it.
The other thing, and this is the Aikido speaking, violence is the easy route. We can all hit people. The harder thing, the thing which shows if you have real balls, is to actually communicate with people and try and talk them around. To recognise their humanity and treat them with civility even when you find them repugnant. That’s hard. That’s the real test of your mettle: can you keep your own humanity and hold yourself to your own standards under that kind of stress or are you just going to degenerate to the level of a nazi and hit someone because you’ve managed, like a nazi, to dehumanise them?