April 10, 2014

Parva svb Ingenti

Recently, I was treated to the story of a young man who went to the aid of a young woman - she was being beaten. As the story goes, the hero approached and thwarted the attack by attacking the attacker. But unknown to our hero, the attacker’s friends were not far behind, and beat the crap out of him. What happened to the girl is anyone’s guess.

Question: Was our hero’s actions ethical? Did he do the right thing?

If we want to understand warrior arts tactically, we have to understand them ethically. And yes, I get this is not as sexy as learning that sweet new move to make opponents spit up a variety of colors. Or the Spackler technique of cutting the hamstring on the back of the leg, right at the bottom, to affect weight displacement to never play golf again (they'll push everything right and quit the game).

I get that some people believe the ethical and tactical are mutually exclusive - incompatible - of one another. They'll say, "Son," (they use words like, "Son," even though we're the same age), "the tactical is about survival - kill or be killed. And the ethical, well, that shit's for Sunday school, religion, or philosophers whiling away in ivory towers." They forgot obsessive bloggers. I have to admit, to a certain extent, this is correct. But only to a certain extent. Here’s how.

We can be tactical without being ethical. It’s easy, really - far easier than trying to be both, for sure. Take the story above. Our young hero saw the violence and knew it was wrong – this young lady did not deserve to be beaten by a cretin. In his gut, he knew this to be immoral and acted. Our hero, a trained martial artist, gained tactical advantage and took the bully out. 

Now, had the violence stopped at that point, perhaps he could've walked into the sunset, even in the embrace of a newly found female friend ever grateful for a real man. But was he ethical? Did this tactical action provide him with the best option to stop the violence and prevent more?

Some will say, yes. And how would they know? Maybe by his intention to do right. But intending to do right is not the same as doing right. I define ethics as "moral values in action," so we're looking for the thing that is done, not just its right-minded intention. Perhaps then by merit of the outcome – his action caused the violence to cease. But this is unhelpful - just because the outcome goes his way does not mean the action was ethical. The outcome could be borne of pure luck – our Rum-smiling hero dropping that NaeNae accidentally knocks the attacker out. The violence has stopped and further prevented.  

I have to say no, even if the outcome had gone his way. I'd say he was lucky and nothing more – a good thing coming in spite of doing a noble dumb thing. GK Chesterton said, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." Defending another is a thing worth doing. But doing it badly in this case, the actual case, meant an outcome that was not sunsets and schmaltz, it meant a shitty, in fact, potentially deadly outcome.

I'll assume the hero has already confronted this - martial artists are like that. They don’t naturally like surprises and like less actually being surprised. It informs them that they were “open,” vulnerable. Even though he had been tactical, he had not been ethical first. Had he been, he would have given himself the best opportunity for the very kind of outcome he was initially compelled to affect.

Think about it. Why exactly did he intervene to begin with? Was it to deliver “justice” to a douchebag? I must have missed the part when our hero swung in on a Batarang. Or did he do it to protect a young woman who could not protect herself? Why, then, did he choose a tactic that delivered “justice” upon her attacker?

And once he'd ladled out this creamy bowl of “justice,” the attacker's friends found it unpalatable and beat the chef, creating a new issue: The hero cannot now protect himself. And once our hero is compromised, what happens to the young woman? She’s left in the very same predicament our hero found her in in the first place. 

By unnecessarily attacking the attacker, the hero has placed himself, the girl, and even his attackers in further harm, potentially deadly harm. Yes, even his attackers: Had the hero (or the attackers or anyone else) been carrying a concealed weapon - a knife or firearm - this is the part where he may decide it comes out. And we get an ending shittier than, "No Country for Old Men."    

What ought the hero have done?

He ought to have placed himself between the young woman and her abuser and separated them. Now, no one can foresee the future, but this tactical action is the best ethical action for a simple reason: It protects everyone. 
It physically protects the girl by shielding her from further violence.
It physically protects the hero by not immediately threatening the attacker, which means they aren't forced to fight. And by standing up for the girl, the hero establishes himself as an obstacle to any further attack.    
It physically protects the attacker from immediate harm by the hero and from lawful harm he may pose to himself by his own poor behavior, even if the dumbass doesn't realize it. 
The tactic stems exclusively from the ethical, specifically a protector ethic. Our hero ought to have acted as a protector of self, others, and, if possible, all others, including the enemy. 

This outlines the ethical/tactical continuum, with the “if possible,” as pivot (kaname, in Japanese) of the balance, since one can only engage the continuum from a sober understanding of one’s own confidence and capacity in martial ability under a given context. If the Chang Sing's and Wing Kong's are going at it, you may not feel like Kung Fu-ing a trench between them, but instead calling the police. 

This all boils down to the sticky, black muck at the base of the pan: How one trains martial ability shapes, even drives, the moment and manner of its use. Technique-based training is too often the tactical driving the ethical, rather than an ethical method driving and shaping the use of the tactical in context.

If your core value in training is to slit throats from behind, like a commando, but you are not a commando, be not surprised when your credo, “Kill’em all, let God sort’em out,” takes you horribly off course, even off the map, causing more conflict and violence than you wished. 

Don’t get me wrong, the world is a brutal place and there will be cases when good folks have no choice but to attack the attacker, even at great risk to themselves or others. But that hardly provides license to make Jack Bauer-ing the guiding orientation of training when we are clearly not Jack Bauer.

Ultimately, protecting your enemy has very much to do with protecting yourself, physically and even lawfully. Operating from the perspective that less is definitively more, our default stance when engaging violence ought to be by the least necessary tactic to conform with the protector ethic. 

Balancing the ethical continuum - self, others, and, if possible, all others, including the enemy - is the best way to gain insight for tactical action because it's when you cannot protect everyone, that tactics become clear.

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