In the early 1970’s, I joined my college’s Karate Club in order to learn self-defense. I don’t think that, at the time, I gave much thought to ethics. Therefore, I was somewhat shocked, as were most of the other members of the class, when, in response to a question about when to use karate, my traditional Japanese karate instructor said that we should use karate when we wanted to kill someone. In response to our protest that, perhaps he didn’t understand the question, he assured us that he did understand and that karate is for killing; if we didn’t want to kill someone, we shouldn’t use karate.
It was while I was studying jujutsu several years later that I finally understood what I think that my karate teacher had been trying to tell us. Traditional karate and jujutsu techniques are dangerous; they are intended to kill or inflict disabling injury. If you use these techniques against someone, you had better be ready to justify, both to yourself and to the authorities, killing or seriously injuring that person.
I enjoyed my karate and jujutsu training and don’t regret training in those arts, but I never resolved my ambivalence about training in martial arts intended to kill or disable. What if I wanted to defend myself without killing anyone?
When I found aikido I realized that this was the martial art for which I had been looking. Aikido techniques are intended to control, rather than destroy, an attacker. This means that aikido provides me with an option for trying to resolve conflict without intending to injure someone who attacks me. This doesn’t mean that I can’t injure an attacker using aikido, but that I can choose to try to protect myself without injuring him. Controlling an attacker without injuring him is much more difficult than responding to an attack without regard to the fate of the attacker. I can’t guarantee that I would always make that choice, but aikido at least provides me with a choice.