Self-Defense From a Pacifist’s Point of View

I’ve been studying kung-fu for almost two months now. Mostly, I’ve been learning blocks, kempos (offensive punch/kick combos), and the occasional technique that has me dodging rubber knives.

The first time Sensei pulled out that rubber knife, I was pretty scared. The rational part of my brain kept telling me it was just a toy, no big deal. The rest of my mind screamed, “knife!”

After making me dodging it for a bit, Sensei handed the knife to me. My sense now confirmed that it was indeed rubber, and would have a difficult time hurting anybody, but I wanted it out of my hand, and I wanted it out of my hand immediately. Luck wasn’t with me that afternoon, and I had to hold the rubber knife while Sensei showed me the technique I was about to learn.

A couple of weeks later, the rubber knife made another appearance in group class as we stabbed at each other so we could practice a new technique. I hated that class (not that I’d ever tell Sensei that).

During my next private class, Sensei deicdeed to teach me a technique to break someone’s neck. I was already pretty squeamish about the whole knife thing, so the question begged to be asked why she was teaching me this technique? I’m fine with hurting somebody if they’re intending me great bodily harm. Self-defense is an honorable reaction. But snapping their neck?

Practicing the technique was very difficult. I actually started doing it wrong, pretending that I wasn’t practicing breaking someone’s neck. Sensei finally sensed my distress and told me I could just focus on remembering to use one of my kicks instead.

I walked out of class in near tears (I wasn’t about to let Sensei see that, either.) It’s a somewhat well-known fact that I used to participate in a medieval recreation group. I was a fighter in the group. Not a particularly good one, but I didn’t stink, either. At one point, it finally sank in that my boffer weapon was meant to “kill” people, and after a particularly unfriendly day, I stopped fighting. Everyone was pretty mad at me, but none of them could understand that I had finally realized what we were playing at, and wanted nothing to do with it.

I couldn’t make myself lift a padded stick to hit someone in just the right place to make them leave the game because we were role-playing and the person had to role-play dying by my hand. (We had some excellent role-players on this point, too. It was actually pretty funny to watch when I was reeving.) It’s the same thing in class. I can’t wield a knife, even if it’s just to let a classmate block my punch. I can’t practice snapping someone’s neck, because I would never want to actually kill someone, even if they’re trying to kill me. (We’ll all hope it never comes to that, because I’m afraid my brain would actually shut down in the desperate attempt to keep both my attacker and me alive while trying to defend myself.)

I’ve never thought of myself as a pacifist, or even a conscientious objector. I’m not really sure what’s at the root of my feelings on this one, but I know it’s nestled in my subconscious and has no trouble making itself known.


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