Chaos and Harmony

By Carl Frederick
Carl For as long as I can remember, I have been involved with the martial arts.  I connected with it, and like a musician to his instrument, I seemed to have a talent which I was able to tap into.  I remember my master in Tang Soo Do, very early on in my training, explaining to me the power of martial arts, and in particular Tang Soo Do.  He stated that what we are learning was meant for one thing, and one thing only: war.  The techniques we were learning were tried and true battlefield tactics, and were meant to kill.  But we don’t live in feudal Korea; we live in a world that prefers movie flash to real tactics.  The fact remained, however, that what we were learning was deadly, warlike, and chaotic. 

Today, martial arts are a form of self-defense, meant to be used only in the most dire of situations, and not to be taken lightly.  I am equally amazed and scared by the things that I know.  But something that I have realized in my time in Aikido, was that my Tang Soo Do master was right.  Everything I knew was chaotic.  My attacks caused injury and pain, and possibly even death.  Even my ability to block incoming attacks had a chaotic motive.  Like an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force, there was no harmony or balance in what I did.  It was simple: defend myself against an attacker, and never take a life unless no other option was feasible.  Even then, I should try to find a way.

This is what draws me to Aikido.  I have a choice whether or not to cause injury, pain or death.  In this sense, Aikido leaves you no choice, its intent is harmony and non-violence.  There is no chaos.  I also like it in the practical sense of my career–it would look bad for a police force to have a cop roundhouse kicking felons.  So I like the immobilizing, passive defensiveness of the art.  But also, it makes me realize that I don’t need to cause injury to defend myself.

Granted, I still like my “harder hitting” style.  And yes, any time there is a technique on the mat that seems more brutal, I get a gleam in my eye.  Although I don’t believe in the whole idea of “bringing uke back into harmony, and making them one with the world,” when a sociopath is willing to kill me so much as look at me, I still believe in the principle of non-violent solutions.

35 thoughts on “Chaos and Harmony

  1. Nice article, DK. Thanks.

    Two points:

    First, rather than not leaving you a choice, doesn’t Aikido, instead, make that choice explicit?

    From your description of Tang Soo Do, it seems that if you want to execute the technique, the only choice you have is to injure your opponent.

    In Aikido, my understanding is that you always have a choice. You can break the elbow or complete the pin. You can strike atemi to injure or to take balance. Of course, if your intent is to harm your partner, you’re not practicing Aikido, but the choice is there.*

    I see it as a representation of the life taking sword, satsujinken, transformed into the life giving sword, katsujinken.

    Secondly, regarding your description of Aikido as passive, I disagree. Aikido asks that you actively engage yourself with the well being of your fellow students, every day. On a physical level, it requires nage, through tai sabaki, to present openings to lead uke into certain attacks, in order to complete technique.

    This can be as mundane as nage’s choice of hamae, or stance, or as difficult as leading uke during randori, which generally requires a committed irimi from nage before uke strikes, in order to collapse any openings nage has.

    Think about this also in your partner practice.

    First, how you present yourself to uke in large part determines the attack. (The opposite, of course, also holds true. How uke presents his attack in large part determines the technique.)

    And second, when does your technique begin? When uke raises his fist, or when uke forms the intent to cause you harm? I suspect Tang Soo Do and Aikido are not that far off in this regard.

    *Hence my belief that in Aikido, like all budo, your real “opponent” is not uke, but your ego / baser self.

  2. I guess what I mean by Aikido not leaving you a choice is what you meant by “well if i cause harm, its not aikido” explanation.

    And also in saying that Aikido is passive, well to me it is, considering where I came from. To me, receiving, or even entering in to receive an attack and using the opponents momentum to redirect them into the ground or throw, is more passive than blocking the punch, kicking them in the stomach and when they are doubled over gasping for air, hit them with the ridge of your hand in their temple.

    I see aikido as dynamic, perhaps equally or even more dynamic than Tang Soo Do. But for me, peaceful intent = passiveness. Which is not a bad thing, thats why I enjoy it so much and have a want to learn it Cuz’ despite my hard shell im just a great big softy deep down.. 🙂

  3. To expand a bit on your peaceful intent=passiveness.

    As counter examples, what about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

    They were both men of peace, and yet their actions effected great social change. Would you consider them passive?

    I’m sure grassHopper also has something to add, given the recent celebration of perhaps the most transformational, and peaceful, figure in Western Civilization.

  4. I think you had said something to this effect when we talked about Qi vs Ki, DK. I like it.

    Since you like brutal techniques, want to do hip throws and chokes? 🙂

  5. Why stop there dichotomy?

    If you really want to get old school, you can’t beat a knife.
    Unless, of course, you have a gun.
    Or a grenade.
    Or a tank.
    Or the Bomb.

    What we do is not about fighting. It is about not fighting.

  6. I dont like chokes…and hip throws leave too much room for error I cant perform them too great yet.

    Rule #1. Never do anything more than you have to in order to defend yourself.

    But tanks are cool though…

  7. He he. I can identify w/ Carl in some respects. I learned karate when I was little and inherited this wild-I’m-going-to-kill-you-if-you-touch me instinct from my parents. But honestly, I’ve come to a point where I’m trying to narrow what exactly it is that I believe when it comes to my personal self-defense mindset. Jesus did thrash the temple, and He encouraged his disciples to carry swords. The weird/cool part is, they never had to use them.

  8. grassHopper,

    Regarding your sword comment (i.e. having the capability to do harm, but choosing not to do so).

    Do you seriously not see the parallels between that mindset and Aikido? There are Christian Aikidoka, you know.

    Edit: Peace, grassHopper!

  9. Of course. I am a Christian aikidoka myself. Aren’t you? I do see the parallels; it’s kind of hard not to notice them. Sort of like what C.S Lewis said when he said this: “The Lord placed in every culture and peoples, within their religion or customs, a piece of Himself so that they might find their way back to Christ.” I’ve been putting this discussion off for a while. But, like I said, I’ve found lately that I’m not actually not sure exactly what it is that I believe when it comes to my self-defense mindset. I’m holding to this right now.

  10. Jerry, I made the offer with the understanding that Carl hates hip throws and chokes more than you do. It was an unvitation. 🙂

  11. LOL
    When I quoted that CS Lewis quote back on Tonya’s blog 6 months ago you argued with me. hehe ^_^ full circle ^_^

    Personally,I don’t really care about self defense. I never started Aikido thinking, “I’m learning to defend myself for serious!!” I started thinking, “This is interesting,I am curious what this is all about.”
    I still have the same mind set. I never carried the delusion that I was going to be some kind of martial master. I just like to throw people.

  12. Yup. It’s funny how people change. 🙂 I still have your e-mail, by the way. I don’t think I ever told you how much I really appreciated it. It really helped clear up some fog. ily Maggie!

  13. I’ve always thought that if I was able to go through life without ever having to throw a single punch or kick than I would of had a good life.

    But I understand that wont happen…not in the career I’m going into.

    That’s why I am hard on myself when I train. That’s why, when preparing for 4th kyu, Jerry was begging me to take a break and get off my knees seeing that they were bleeding, and I grunted a “no”. My life, or someone Else’s may depend on what I have learned. So, gotta be ready…

    Having the capability to cause harm, but the ability to choose not too…for me, is harmony…

  14. For the record, I wasn’t “begging” you. Your test was one week away and you had neglected your suwari-waza until then. I didn’t want you to look bad in front of Dee. You did fine, though. 🙂

    I can count on two hands the number of training days I missed during my first six years. To the point that it affected my job.

    Bloody knees were the least of my worries. I had MRIs taken, once to rule out a blown orbital socket.

    Times change.

  15. Not to pick, but talk to Dee sometime about her training injuries.

    My first trip to NY, very first class, one hour of suwari-waza. On synthetic tatami, which is an order of magnitude harder than the wrestling mats we train on. And on and on.

    And I walked to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. 😉

  16. Are we gonna sit around a table in the lower deck of a ragged old boat and compare battle scars now?

    Took a round house kick to the head…forgot who I was for a few seconds…still got the scar…

    blew out a knee doing a bad technique during a kata…

    still got a t-shirt with a hole in the center of the chest from a sai….dont ask…that one is embarrassing

    I can point at angles…with a straight arm…

    no MRI’s you got me on that one…for now…lol 😛

  17. Get off my lawn! 😛

    I was referring to your Aikido training, not Tang Soo Do. As you know, I have no standing to comment on your other martial experiences. Aikido, on the other hand…. 😉

    When you said “begged” it got me in a (bit of a) dander. Not to minimize your injury, I just wanted to bring some perspective.

    Peace, brother!

  18. *Sigh*


    MM, I think “aikiflower” has a positive connotation, don’t you? It suggests spring, renewal, life, beauty.

    Let’s tenkan and change our perspective a bit. Maybe we should be thanking your friend at that other site for the training opportunity?

  19. depends on how you look at it…flowers are also, delicate, frail, and easily burned…

    whatever helps you sleep at night…”aikiflower” 😛

  20. I’ve actually thought about adopting the term ‘aikiflower’ as a feminist badge of martial art honor. LOL I’ll train hard and show the boys what an ‘aikiflower’ can accomplish. 😉

  21. Well, flowers are not only female. Technically, they can be male or even hermaphroditic.

    (Relax, DK, this is not about you…)

  22. I have considered the overall outline of the topic of this thread, from harmony, soft, hard, passive and of course the personal religious patterns or balancing the martial arts and religion.

    I consider my study of Aikido and martial arts in general as physical exercise. I chose the “arts”, again, because I know I’m not going to the gym nor am I going to strike out to walk thirty minutes every other day. I have studied some form of the “arts” from age 11 and it truly interest me. In my younger days, because I was fascinated by Bruce Lee. Today, as stated previously, I study because of the physical aspects of it, but there is another reason; it is dog gone interesting. Positioning, angle, strike points and the like, I find extremely interesting.

    From striking to harmonizing, I find a balance between the two. There is a time to strike, particularly for the defense of others. Harmonizing, for my own personal defense. I leave it at that, in fear of opening a can of worms.

    Balancing the “arts” with one’s religious beliefs could be difficult for some, but not for this writer. As a pastor of a church, I don’t broadcast that I am studying the “arts” nor do I hide it.

    Probably the most notable fight in the Bible belongs to David and Goliath. We know the story, but the background of that battle says a lot about preparation. David, as most of us know, was a sheppard. He was most likely a middle teens teenager. When King Saul asked David what made him think he could defeat Goliath, David expounded upon his earlier training. Although, God blessed and protected David, he trained. He trained with his sheppard’s staff, his hands and his sling. David told King Saul, on two occasions he killed wild animals (lion and bear) with his hands. He would not have been able to do this unless he had been training in some way. He had to be physically fit and know something about how to attack.

    When David approached Goliath, a man which stood over nine feet, David took his sling and put it to work. We know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say. I propose David had trained with his sling.

    In another biblical example, God told Israel, when a much larger force was about to attack, to put on their battle array and go to face the enemy. Israel did just that. They prepared for battle, went to face the enemy, but they never had to raise a hand, for God cause the enemy of Israel to kill themselves.

    In these two examples, I am taking nothing away from God’s power and ability, but what I am pointing out is, I believe, God teaches us to be prepared and show up. I do not believe that God requires everyone to study the “arts”. People tend to lean toward their personalities. Some like the challenge of the mat and other do not and that’s okay.

    The point I’m trying to make is this; it is the mind set or heart set. If an individual studies the “arts” for the purpose of fighting, then it is the wrong heart set. If a person studies the “arts” with the love of his fellow man in his or her heart, then the heart is in the right place.

    I use to love sparring and still do (lovin randori), to a point. Years ago, it was about defeating an opponent with a devastating blow as quickly as possible. Today, I am more interested in the quality of the technique than the devastation factor. Although, devastating can be very cool.


  23. Thoughtful post, Chris. I agree.

    I also like devastating technique. My first seminar, years ago at Palm Beach Aikikai, was a real eye opener for me. Donovan Waite Shihan was instructing. It’s hard to overstate the power generated by our throws, when executed by someone with skill, and received by someone who can safely absorb that much energy.

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