Violence, Nonviolence, Protection, and Play

From my own community practice of movement and martial-arts, that we call SHIFT, I’ve discovered some fascinating things about how I experience assertive, risky, action.

I hesitate to call such action by its much more recognizable name: Violence.

My dictionary defines violence as “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill”. When I box with my friends, during our SHIFT workouts, we hurt each other often. Joyfully so! At the end, we feel invigorated, relaxed, a bit of communion, and have acquired a few new aches and sensitive spots on our bodies.

From my past experience practicing and learning the traditions behind Aikido, I  have long pondered the concept of “the life giving sword”: a sword only drawn when needed, and used in accord with the furtherance and affirmation of the community of life. I may die, the other may die, but whatever the moment dictates, it results in a benefit to my family, village, and land.

I add this to what my naturopath tells me: that activities that increase testosterone levels in men (boxing, for one), increase their cardiovascular protection, bone density, and overall health balance.

I stand strongly in my center, in the place where I practice martial skills for protection, health, and the benefit of all life in my community.

Yet recently, while daydreaming at the 2008 World Open Space on Open Space in San Francisco, something struck me: what if one of my fellow SHIFTers and I had a session on boxing, somewhere in a suitable distant corner, and knocked some sense into each other for a period of time? How would the other participants react?

Certainly Open Space allows for all kinds of activity, music, dance, conversation, games. But how would the community react to boxing?

I ask this in part because we finished the entire event, inspired by one participant who broke into a song, by singing of peace and holding hands in a circle.

This both accords with my deep values, and also causes me to pause and wonder if I understand peace differently than the rest of my community in that particular Open Space.

As a youth, I proudly inherited a philosophy of pacifism from both of my parents. On the playground, and in the neighborhood, I knew where I stood on “violence”. This resulted in many, many mixed experiences. Recently my mother and I had a conversation on how we had revised our perceptions of peaceful action; it now included protection! And I see it in a far more textured, nuanced way.

I’ve also talked to her about its power as something to affirm one’s own health, and the health of the partner. That the…

Oh. So, in a grounding note, a few minutes ago, at about an hour before midnight here, I heard gunfire on the street corner – a couple of folks just shot someone to death. Screams, running feet, and calls of “they shot Snake and his bros – y’all shot the wrong guys! y’all shot the wrong guys!” echoed down the street.

I don’t know why, but gunfire and my cross-streets seem to go together like bacon and eggs.

When this happens the police cruisers like to park in front of my house, and coruscate their lighting arrays while quietly chattering on the radio.

As the cruiser continues to warm its engine a couple feet from the baby fig tree in my front yard, I realize that I’ve lost interest on writing about violence tonight. I hope Snake, or the one of his brothers that died, receives the grief he needs to build his raft of tears and ride the night swells to the next place for him.

And, though I heard a lot of shots, with some luck only one of their families will need to face the difficult task of providing such tears for them. From the chatter and panicked gossip outside, I think only one young man died tonight, on this particular street corner.

Written by Willem