Self-Defense in Fading Light

People debate the right to self-defense. In some places people can be charged criminally if they use a gun in self-defense, even in their own home, against an armed home invader or robber. Business owners and employees have been charged with felony violations for using deadly force in self-defense, even after they have been attacked and shot. 

There are people who question why you might need to use force to defend yourself, armed or not armed, and wonder why you can’t just de-escalate. They may be sincere.

There are people who wish all violence would go away. Using their imagination, they hope that if they are not violent that they will not be a victim.

There are people want to see others made helpless. Some have called for genocidal violence against groups which include innocent people – justifying wild violence, and advocating for it. Then they say they didn’t mean it. Or that they have free speech.

For most of human history the idea of a right to self-defense would have been laughable. Self-defense was as natural as breathing. It would have been unimaginable for there to be a public debate on the right to breathe. This was not a right, it was natural. It was what you did. Unless you couldn’t. Unless you were in crisis – old or sick or hurt, or if someone prevented you from breathing. 

Later, as societies stratified, some people used force without restraint while others were subject to their whim and will, without the means or sometimes even the will to defend themselves. That sometimes happened in caste- and class-bound feudalisms for example, around the world.

But for most of human history, if were threatened you protected yourself. If your family was threatened – whatever the motive – you protected them. If your community was threatened – your clan, tribe, city, or country – people banded together for mutual self-defense and they did everything they could to protect what was theirs. People lived this way. Invasions, raids, wars, disasters and misfortunes were not unusual events. People prepared for these, and defended themselves against them, as a part of life.

People believe in enlightenment. Whether by enlightenment they mean the philosophical movement of the 17thcentury, the use of empiricism and reason, the discovery of how things work, or what the Buddha taught, people believe in the possibility that our understanding can become clearer and life can get better, as we go.

But there is no guarantee it won’t go the other way. People can become more disturbed, more confused, more impulsive. Britain went from wild to orderly and poor to wealthy, when the Romans ruled, and then from high-tech to primitive, literate to ignorant, protected to victimized when they left. Ditto for Rome itself, as the empire burned and melted. That cycle has happened everywhere. The cycle continues.

Order, prosperity, dignity, safety and opportunity are the result of consistent, communal effort. It doesn’t take much to overturn them. Vandalism and ill-will will do the trick. These can spread like fire, consuming all the fuel it can find, until there is nothing left to burn.

People can debate the best ways to do self-defense: but it will include training, building character and community, strength and skill. They will debate the best ways to organize – with neighbors, security and police.  

People will debate which martial art is best, and the best ways to train. 

But with the past and the present as our examples, there is no debate about the fact that the strong will always try to prey upon the weak. And that people subject to threat will want to do more than hide, suffer and die. That is not new.  

And it is not over. That is why good martial arts training remains as relevant and urgent as it was a hundred or a thousand years ago.


Post Copyright © 2023 by Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate Dojo, LLC

Photo of children doing karate in Nepal by Ozan Safak via Pexels


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