“Everyone talks about peace but no one educates for peace.
We educate for competition, and competition marks the beginning of all wars.
When we educate for cooperation and to offer each other solidarity, that day we will educate for peace.”
«Tout le monde parle de paix mais personne n’éduque à la paix.
On éduque pour la compétition, et la compétition marque le début de toutes les guerres.
Quand on éduquera pour la coopération et pour nous offrir les uns, les autres de la solidarité, ce jour-là on éduquera à la paix.»
Maria Montessori (31 août 1870 – 6 mai 1952)
There is a concept in traditional martial arts called “No Enemy.” While this is easily mistaken for a mere philosophical concept, it is actually an immensely practical principle, with applications in strategy, tactics, methodology, and technique. It is difficult to explain this principle simply because it is so far reaching. It is involved in the development of diplomatic and social skills, in the application of military tactics and strategy, in politics, and in the practical application of martial techniques. The ability to achieve “No Enemy” means that your technique will be unstoppable, and that it will be difficult for others to fight you in the first place. I know of only a handful of martial artist who have clearly mastered this principle. But everyone should try to develop it, at least to some degree.
Before I continue, let me repeat what I have often said. While some people might assume that a martial art is the study and perfection of war and violence, that would be totally impractical. It is also far from the truth. It is like saying that a medical doctor is one who is involved in the study and perfection of illness. That would be bad medicine, just as seeking violence is bad martial arts.
A martial art is the cure for violence, although spectators might think otherwise when watching martial sport. This is because martial sport is a restrictive offshoot of martial art, and should be viewed as a limited training method. In sport, one seeks victory over another. But that conflict has a time limit. It is predetermined to have a beginning and an end. A martial art is more comprehensive than martial sport. It treats conflict as having no beginning and no end, and the goal is not to win, but to avoid losing.
In comprehensive martial arts, one comes to understand that competition is contrary to success. Even in martial sport, one learns to recognize the value having successful and eager opponents. And when sport becomes theatre, the appearance of conflict and the uncertainty of its outcome are profitable for both combatants. At one extreme is prize fighting. This is a dance dependent upon many mutual agreements. It is a violent dance which many traditional martial artists avoid and find morally reprehensible. But is still a dance. It also involves pre-established rules and astounding amounts of paperwork. There is a lot of diplomacy involved in martial sport.
Years ago, I was attending an international martial arts competition in the USA with some of my students. Some had black belts in other styles before studying with me. So, they had plenty of experience in martial art competitions. We watched some fierce matches between athletes from 15 different countries. But what most impressed my students was the fact that competitors were more interested in sharing knowledge and skill with each other, than in winning medals. It seemed odd to one of my students that people would be giving away their secrets to an opponent just hours or minutes before they were to face each other in the ring. But the others explained that hardly anyone would remember who won here. But each person will always remember what they learned, and the friendships they made. We did not sleep much that week, choosing instead to train with our fellow competitors until the cows came home.
Gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.Leo Rosten
Some will argue that strength is essential for diplomacy. This could be interpreted as saying that military power is the stick to diplomacy’s carrot. But warfare itself is the failure of diplomacy, not its strong arm. Even if we achieve an overwhelming victory over a weaker opponent, it hurts our own cause in ways that few have the foresight or hindsight to measure.
Diplomacy can seem like a battle. In certain stages of negotiation it has been said that a really good compromise is one that leave both sides dissatisfied. But the goal is peace, and an essential tactic in diplomacy is finding common ground. Novice martial artists always fail to recognize that the same can be said about martial technique. While it may seem as if the goal of a martial technique is to make the opponent do something they don’t want to do, successful technique is actually about cooperation.
This concept informs even the fine details of a martial technique. It is the same whether you are attempting a strike, a throw, a joint control, or a pressure point manipulation. If the enemy opposes you, the technique will not work. You need to find the part of the opponent’s mind that wants to allow the technique. For all the talk of training against a non-compliant training partner, the truth is that if your opponent is resisting your technique, it is the wrong technique. You must find the timing, the distance, and the direction in which there is no opposition. Then the enemy will fall. They will fall because they are being the enemy, and you are not.
Students miss this point for two reasons. One is that it is a difficult skill to master. The other is because they are so focused on the effort that precedes a successful execution of a technique that they associate their brute force with the success of the technique. They don’t feel the effortless action that actually made the technique work.
They think that their effort was responsible for their success, whereas it was ceasing to contend that caused the opponent to lose.
We see this in the way that novices keep using the most inefficient way of punching a heavy bag, simply because they find the excessive effort to be a satisfying feedback for their ego. They don’t trust effortlessness.
This error of the novice students is akin to them banging their heads against a wall to reassure themselves of the existence of their heads. Likewise, people will seek conflict with an enemy because it reassures them of their existence.
Politicians and advertisers use this in identity politics. They try to make us angry or afraid of a supposed enemy in order to strengthen our identification with their own political ambitions. It is similar to the way that sports teams garner emotional support. We are all far too easily manipulated into imagining an enemy just to feel emotional sense of belonging to a team, or a political party. It is so convenient to identify ourselves according to what we hate, even if the hatred is based on an illusions or lies.
When we identify ourselves by what we love, then we find common ground more easily, and can resolve our conflicts with dialogue instead of debate. A successful debater can score point with the audience. A successful dialogue can lead to actual understanding between different factions.
Such compassion and understanding also applies to martial technique. When we learn to recognize the needs and ambitions of the opponent, in each fraction of a moment, then we can allow them them to achieve their momentary goals in ways that do not inconvenience us. Martial artists might call this ducking, blending, following, pivoting, sticking, merging, borrowing, intercepting, etc. These are in contrast to what we call blocking, which is seen as a low level skill that martial artists eventually try to avoid whenever possible. Beginners learn to block. But this is a step toward interception and other more practical skills.
Like anything worth learning, mastery is not easy. We have a lot of human nature to overcome on our path to mastery. Fear and ego are well established expressions of our survival instinct. They have their purposes. But attachment to them is like tensing all your muscles at inappropriate times. Learning to let go of those things is as difficult as a gymnast learning to relax the right muscles at the right time during tumbling pass. It can take years of practice.
In diplomacy, we learn the value of integrative negotiation, instead of distributive negotiation. We learn that success is not about finding a way for us to get more for ourselves at another person’s expense. It is about how we can both get more of what we need, and about finding ways to ensure our peace and security in the longer term. When we fail in this, it leads to fighting over limited resources instead of ensuring abundant resources for all.
When the diplomats fail, the soldiers go to work. But even in warfare, one must understand that victory over the enemy is always temporary. Lasting victory occurs when the enemy is no longer your enemy. This can be difficult to achieve and equally difficult to maintain. But it is the measure of success. Even the obliteration of the enemy is no substitute for having them as an ally.
The measure of a student’s experience is found in their understanding of the fact that, both in the greater scheme of things, and in the minutia of strategy and technique, there is no enemy.
The first lines of “The Art of War”, Sunzi quotes the ancient military maxim. “To know your enemy and know yourself, you will not be defeated, even in one hundred battles.”
What needs to be understood is that you never learn anything about anyone by hating them. Love and compassion are as essential to understanding as proprioception is to controlling your own limbs. Victory is achieved by realizing that there is no enemy.
As the old saying goes, “Become one with the universe, and the would-be enemy will defeat themselves by the nature of their own attack.”
It is not easy. It is not weak. It is, however, poorly understood. Our ability to overcome our differences is one of the things that has made humans so successful as a species. It is probably going to be essential to our future survival as well. “Survival of the fittest” refers not to the strongest but to the one who is most able to fit into the environment. Evolution has shown that the fittest is often the nicest.