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Are Martial Arts Ethical?

Resolving the Conflict Between Ethics & Self Defense

It seems obvious why someone would ask this question. If you spend your days learning how to kill people, for example, how does that jibe with what some people call the first commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” But the answer to this question is that martial arts are actually the consummate ethical response. To the extent there is even a minor lapse in ethical conduct, gaping holes in one’s defenses open up leaving one prone to serious injury.

The Path of the Warrior is Love

How does this work? The founder of Aikido voiced his understanding with the statement that true budo, or the path of the warrior, is love. So someone wants to kill me and I am supposed to love them? Actually as Mitsugi Saotome explains, if you want to survive, you better love them. Love will close your openings to being defeated while anger and hatred will expose you to immediate death. In depth study of the principles underlying self defense led him to realize that his ability to perceive an attack before it is launched is highly dependent upon his state of mind. Ethical conduct leaves a mind calm and clear, better able to perceive reality. Ethics is based upon love and compassion. Anger or hatred, a wish to harm another, leads to a foggy mind which is easily defeated.

So when attacked, we don’t react selfishly and become angry at the attacker. Instead, we think about what is best for them. Well, it is fortunate for us that in most circumstances that the process of inflicting harm on us is not generally good for other people. If someone kills me, they can be imprisoned or executed. Surely they would not prefer this result. So out of concern for their well being, we protect ourselves and thwart their plans to cause harm. As it turns out, the willingness to give up our selfishness and help the other person actually improves our ability to perceive the attack before it is launched. Had we tried to respond with the same technique out of a selfish desire to protect ourselves, it is much less likely to work.

Sound Ethics are Critical to Martial Arts Effectiveness

So through this understanding, we can see the critical role ethical conduct plays in martial arts training. To the person who looks at the problem on the surface, it might seem counterintuitive that training in self defense technique can be ethical in nature. But we never develop the mind of wishing to harm another, but rather think of the techniques as a form of exercise. Legitimate self defense skill will come from the clean conduct and a clear mind.


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