Ethics of a
Is there such a thing?
(C) 1997 - All Rights Reserved
This article came from my
book (student guide) on Martial Arts. It is related to
self-defense, however, like "The Book of 5 Rings", or
"The Art of War", the concepts can be applied in a
broader sense to your life. The best Martial Artist is
the one that can avoid harming others, as well as
To understand ourselves, we must
explore the consequences of our actions (or potential
actions), and decide what path we would take -- before we
come to the fork in the road.
Ethics of a fight
If you don't understand someone, or where they are coming
from, you are more likely to accidentally provoke them. So
it is everyone's responsibility to try to understand others
(and themselves) and to try to be tolerant of others and
their points of view.
The best way to avoid damage to yourself and an opponent
is to not get in a fight. Since nobody wins a fight, the
best way to avoid loosing one, is by not getting in one.
Understand beforehand that an argument can escalate into
a fight, and a fight into combat (life & death), and
combat can end in death or incarceration. Think of that
BEFORE you let your temper get the best of you, or you take
it on yourself to chastise that lousy driver, loud mouth at
the restaurant, etc. The consequences of your actions may be
more severe than you realize.
There are different ways that a fight can happen --
Unprovoked aggression - When without any
justifiable reason someone attacks another person, this
is unprovoked aggression. The attack may come physically
or verbally, the only difference being the degree of
Provoked aggression - When someone attacks
physically or verbally for no justifiable reason
(probably venting frustration on an innocent), and the
other person retaliates -- the response is provoked
Provoking someone into aggression and then attacking
him (or responding to his returned aggression) is also
provoked aggression -- and the provoker is at fault even
if he doesn't throw the first punch. This is the
antithesis of everything that the spirit of the martial
arts stand for.
Martial arts stand for sincerely attempting everything
reasonable to avoid a conflict, while doing everything
possible to be prepared for all possible outcomes. Upon
being unable to avoid a conflict, a Martial Artist ends
the confrontation quickly as possible, and is willing to
accept the consequences. Since conflict involves humans,
each person must make his own choices and decide if he
has done everything reasonable to avoid the conflict.
This includes trying alleviate the escalating tension,
and leaving if possible. Since almost every conflict
could be avoided, it is the martial artist responsibility
to use forethought and foresight to avoid these conflicts
and to learn from each conflict (how to avoid future
The point being, that if the aggression is unprovoked,
then you would be righteous in your response. But this is by
far not the norm. Usually, there is something going on, and
some provocation, and you have a responsibility to figure
Responsibility - Some believe that you
are your brothers keeper. While that is not necessarily
true, and you can not be responsible for others actions,
neither is the opposite true. You do have a certain
responsibility to other human beings, and must remember
that they are human beings. So while you must react to a
situation and protect yourself or your family and friends
first, you must secondarily have some responsibility for
the damage you cause. In other words, you must do
whatever it takes to protect yourself, but you must also
do avoid doing unnecessary damage to the attacker.
This is an individual decision, based on risks and
fears at the time, and will be made on a case-by-case
Also, it is very rare for a "fight" just to break out, or
an attack to end in serious harm without escalation. Usually
a fight (verbal) starts over something minor, and then keeps
getting bigger and bigger, and worse and worse, until
someone ends up bludgeoned (or dead). So we have a
responsibility to recognize escalation, and avoid it
Escalation - Escalation is caused by both
parties not backing down, and often by not backing down,
the opposite happens and things heat up. When you are
arguing or fighting you must be aware of your point of
view, and your opponents'. If you have the ability to
prevent escalation, you should take it. An example might
be in an argument saying, "I don't agree with your
opinion, but I don't want to discuss this further." You
don't have to be dishonest, but you don't want to provoke
the situation further.
If you are escalating a fight (verbally) then YOU are
provoking the other person into fighting -- and you do
not have the right to claim that it was "unprovoked"
since you helped pick the fight (or contributed to it).
You can walk away (or try to) at almost any time, you can
diffuse the situation at almost any time. The person that
throws the first punch is ultimately responsible -- but
with enough effort, we would sucker someone into doing
that, and give ourselves an excuse to vent our
frustrations on them. That is why we have a
responsibility to NOT escalate things.
This next section is based
on the my personal observations and opinions. I do NOT
imply any of these attitudes or views are ethical or
correct either legally or morally. These are
observations, personal opinions and some alternate points
of view, not to be confused with moral, ethical or legal
Legalities are different than realities. Laws vary from
state to state, and sometimes city to city. It is hard to
prove "your intent" or the intent of "the other guy". The
laws in some states are so unjust, that if someone punches
you and then stops hitting you, and you retaliate, YOU could
be considered the aggressor. The legal attitude is, "well he
stopped hitting you, so by hitting him, you where continuing
the fight, when you could have just let it end". There is
almost nothing the law, or a good lawyer, can't twist
against you. So your best defense is to not be involved in
the first place.
If you are ever forced into fighting, it would be in your
best interests to leave the scene as quickly as possible.
Returning there in the days or weeks after the "incident"
would probably not be prudent. The law will seldom see the
Martial Artist as the peaceful one. In the eyes of many,
Martial Artists are semi-crazed lunatics who smash bricks
with their faces for fun, and are aching for the chance to
prove themselves. There are many legal cases where a
"whacked out Karate Killer" supposedly beat on "some poor
innocent", when the "innocent" was the aggressor and the
martial artist was attacked first. Wasting time and money
defending yourself in a law suit, that you may lose, is a
steep price for vanity. If you are in a fight, don't look
for any medals, don't wait for the reporters, and don't
expect to be a hero. If you were a really good martial
artist, you would have avoided the fight.
James Mitose -
Roughly the story of James Mitose after World War II
is as follows. He collected contributions for a Memorial
to be built in honor of American-Japanese relations.
While collecting enough money for the memorial he put the
money to use by loaning it out to Japanese emigres to
help them start businesses. The memorial idea fizzled,
and many businessmen that contributed wanted the money
back. Mitose dealt with people on the honor system, which
has little value in American Courts, and was unable to
collect on many of the loaned out funds.
One of the persons that had been loaned money to, had
since done quite well in business, but angrily refused to
pay any money back. Mr. Mitose had complained about this,
and the lack of honor associated with that act. One of
his students took it upon himself to talk sense into the
man. During the discussion, the businessman became
enraged and attacked the student, who defended himself
and accidentally killed the businessman.
Mr. Mitose was charged with complicity in the murder.
During the trial the student was asked about Mitose, and,
when replying the student always used the honorary
"Master Mitose". Not understanding Japanese culture or
Martial Arts etiquette, and being that this was only a
short while after the Manson slayings, the prosecuting
lawyer and the jury took this to be an admission of the
student that he was controlled by James Mitose.
Both Mitose and the student expressed that Mitose had
not told the student to kill the victim. When Mitose was
asked if he felt responsible for the death, Mitose
replied in the affirmative, as it is customary in
Japanese culture for the instructor to feel responsible
for the students actions. This was interpreted by the
jury to be an admission of guilt, and the defense
attorney was denied bringing in an expert to testify on
oriental culture and what was actually meant.
Mitose was sentenced to life in prison, and later died
in Folsom State Prison in California. While the student
spent 3 years in prison. To further the irony, people
that knew and understood James Mitose and his
philosophies, knew that he was a pacifist and believed in
the law. Even while he was imprisoned he stated that he
understood how the system had made this mistake, and he
was not embittered by the error that stole his freedom
The aggressor is not the one that throws the first punch,
but the one who insists on fighting.
If you ever get into a fight, it should be because you
are "forced into it". That means that you have taken every
opportunity within your power to get out of it. Leave if you
can, fight only if you must! If you do get into a fight, it
is usually because you missed many opportunities to get out
of the situation or to properly assess the situation.
On the other hand, as a defender, I do not believe that
you have to wait for the opponent to punch you (or punch at
you). If the opponent is determined to fight, even though
you have been doing your best to defuse the situation (or
leave), I believe you may defend yourself first (I doubt the
law sees it the same way). The best defense is a good
offense, and vise versa. This does not mean you can bludgeon
someone because they are yelling in your face -- but if
someone is determined to fight, and it is inescapable, then
I may not wait for him to hit me (or try) -- I might stop
the fight in the quickest way I know how (and he might not
like what that is). In a fight situation the catalysts might
be something like a grab, or just moving at me too quickly
(the telegraph of a punch or other attack). But keep in mind
all the issues of escalation, provocation, and
I would also recommend against hitting someone once and
thinking "its over", with that attitude it soon will be, but
it will be over for you. If you are forced into fighting,
you must hurt the person to the point that he realizes that
he made a mistake and does not want to further the conflict
-- seldom is one blow enough. For some people that will be a
couple of punches, or simply locking up a joint (and
threatening to hurt it) -- for others it might take serious
injury. A safe idea (for you) is to hit the person (stun),
then hurt the person, then take him down to the ground or
knock him out of retaliation range, and then leave. All done
as quickly as possible.
Aikido believes that you have a responsibility to NOT
hurt the opponent. While I don't disagree completely, I
think your first responsibility is to yourself, your family,
and your friends -- you need to get home in one piece (with
as little risk to yourself as possible). If you make a
mistake in a street fight, and the person knocks you down or
knocks you out, there is no guarantee when he will stop.
This person has proved his intent is to do you harm, by not
letting you back out of the fight. So he may be one of the
"sick" sub-humans that gets his kicks out of hurting others.
If you give this type of individual the opportunity to
pummel you, he may not stop until you are seriously injured,
possibly even fatally. A fight is not a game, it is a
possible life and death situation and should be treated as
such. No individual is so good that he can't get sucker
punched or make a mistake. So playing (showing off) or being
"too nice" (trying not to hurt the opponent) are dangerous
ventures. End it, end it fast (which often means violently).
Being too nice, is good for your soul -- but may be
dangerous to your body. I am not that good a person
(that I'll risk harm to myself for the sake of a stranger
with an anger problem, who probably needs a lesson anyway)
-- I believe in ending it with as much safety to me as
possible (which may mean more risks or damage for the
opponent). I can sleep fine knowing that any injuries he
incurs will be lessons to remind him not to attack others,
and were the results of his provocation -- you are going to
have to make those judgments for yourself, but do it before
hand. Know how you will respond, plan for how you will
respond (and what you expect of yourself) -- and program
yourself to respond in the way you desire to.
These are my views on
Pacifism. Some other people don't like them -- tough. I
don't like some of theirs either.
The pacifist is not a person who won't fight. A pacifist
seeks peace, but that does not mean he won't defend himself.
A pacifist is a person who could fight (and win), but
will try every other possible alternative before being
forced into fighting. If you have no ability to fight,
so you don't fight, you are not being a pacifist; but a
person choosing the only reasonable option available to you
(if you fought you would get beaten so you don't fight). So
to be a true pacifist you should be capable of fighting, and
then choose to avoid it at all costs -- otherwise you are a
wimp with an excuse. Pacifism is not always about the
outcome, but about the effort.
Would you consider Iraq
pacifistic by not attacking the U.S.? However the U.S. is
being somewhat pacifistic by not attacking Iraq (and
exhausting other possibilities before resorting to
"attacks) -- especially when the other side is initiating
If you choose not to fight, no matter what the other
person does, you are not being a pacifist because you are
not stopping violence -- you are promoting it. By letting
someone to attack you, your friends or your family, and
doing nothing about it, you are letting this sociopath know
that people are willing to let him use intimidation to get
what he wants (or get away with violence). That is not a
service to society, or to yourself. This may preserve the
short term peace (you didn't get into an immediate fight),
but causes a continuing threat to the long term peace (he
got away with it before, so he will continue to try to get
away with it in the future). You can not preserve the
peace by sacrificing peace.
To pacify is to calm, appease and avoid hostilities; not
to allow someone to infringe on your or other peoples
rights. In letting someone infringe on yours (or others
rights) without doing something to prevent the person
(physically, intellectually or legally), you allowing
hostilities to be promoted without doing anything about it.
This does not mean you have to take responsibility for
everyone in the world, or get involved in things you have no
understanding about. It is just explaining that inaction can
be almost as bad as doing a hostile action. We even have
laws against inaction.
To be a pacifist there must be things you are willing to
fight for. The famed pacifists Gandhi and Martin Luther King
fought hard for their ideals -- they just didn't use
physical means; preferring to use social disobedience to get
points across. If there is nothing in the world you are
willing to fight for (even peace), then you are not a
pacifist, you're just showing total disregard for the world
If you have to fight for what you believe in (whether
they be personal rights, life, liberty or the pursuit of
happiness), and you choose to do it physically, that does
not mean that you are not a pacifist. Pacifism is personal
interpretation, choosing to exhaust every other possibility
before resorting to violence, shows the will to keep peace.
The ends does not justify the means. However neither does
the means justify (or nullify) the ends, or the ends
automatically discredit the means.
Many people run through life on "auto-pilot" and are not
doing most things consciously or maliciously (they are just
unaware), you must forgive them (like an errant pet, or a
child). Trying to fix them will do little, and you are
becoming one of "them" if you vent your frustration (at
their actions) out on them. Their actions are their problem,
but your reactions are yours.
When that guy cuts you off on the road, feel pity for him
-- he is in such a hurry through life, that he is allowing
himself to be a callous or reckless person -- that is sad.
When the person tries to puff up and get in a fight because
he has no control over his emotions, again, that is a sad
thing. Distance yourself from your anger reaction, and don't
always feel you have to prove your right -- don't let anger
get the best of your reason. Animals feel anger, but animals
can't control it with reason. Do you want to be an animal,
or a human being. The only thing that should get you into a
fight is violence (or a crime) against another human (or
yourself) -- then it is too late to do anything else, but up
to that point, you have lots of options.
I do not condone fighting, in fact quite the opposite. I
feel that if there is ANY opportunity to get out of a fight
it should be taken. But if there is no choice, and you have
to fight, then you damn well better be good at it. To be
able to defend yourself, and harm another, you had better
let loose your fighting spirit.
Many people use anger as their fighting spirit, this is
dangerous because anger often denies or ignores control and
intellect. The person that is fighting with pure anger is
easier to beat than a person that is fighting with his
wits.Your fighting spirit is everything in you that is
capable of self preservation, at whatever costs necessary to
survive. While fighting, you let this little intelligent
monster loose, and it will do everything possible to
minimize the hurt to you, while maximizing the hurt to the
other person. The more the other guy hurts, the less likely
he is to continue the fight, or pick one in the future.
After a fight a person
may not remember how much they hurt you,
but they will remember how much you hurt
If you have done everything you can do avoid a fight,
then there should be no regrets after a fight (and certainly
not during one). A person that has picked a fight, ignored
every warning you have tried to give him, will not let you
back down, and has instigated aggressions, deserves whatever
he gets. This does not mean killing or maiming a person is
okay, and if you can minimize the permanent damage to
another with no risks to yourself than do it. However if you
can not get away from some sociopath, who doesn't have the
ability to control his own emotions, and forces you into a
confrontation that is dangerous to himself; then why be
worried about the damage this person made you cause him?
Do everything you can to
avoid a fight,
if you can't avoid it, do everything you can to end it
Psychologist agree that merciful people seldom commit
violent crimes. Assaults, rapes, muggings, are such acts of
violent aggression that they demand a violent response.
Fight or Flight
"Fight or Flight" is the mode our bodies get into right
before we rip the head off something, run like hell, or
both. If you have been pushed to this point you know what it
feels like. If you want to avoid fights, it is good to be
able to read the warning signs.
Our bodies have a few natural things that happen when we
go into, or are preparing for, fight or flight. The skin
goes pale. This is caused by blood rushing away from the
surface of the skin into the muscles. This is especially
apparent in the extremities; fingers, toes, hands, and feet.
Pupils contract. Adrenaline is dumped into the system and
the bodies metabolism accelerates. This adrenaline can cause
things like shaking or trembling, sweating, pain sensors
being shut down. Tensing of muscles, jaw, back, fists are
other indicators. This is right before "all hell breaks
Many people confuse these warning signs with "fear", and
it may be fear causing these symptoms, but don't think that
people can't fight when they are afraid. This person is more
likely to go overboard, and beat the crap out of someone,
and not know when to stop. There are different levels of
fear, no one wants to get hurt, and everyone with an ounce
of sense gets at least a little afraid before a fight. But
fear can be controlled and used. All these "Fight or Flight"
symptoms have a reason, and that reason is to preserve the
body and to do as much damage to the cause of this fear as
possible, and/or to get out of the area of danger. Blood
going to the muscles, oxygenates them and primes them for
use. Blood flow is drawn away from the extremities, this is
the bodies defense in case something is bitten or cut.
Adrenaline is an oxygen supercharger, things are about to
move very quickly. Muscles tense to get ready for action.
Even extreme reactions, emptying the bladder or bowels, may
be associated with fear, but they help protect the body from
internal damage (1). When you see a fear reaction
going on, and the obvious physiological changes, then
something "big" may happen.
(1) Actually the extreme reaction of
emptying your bladder is a good way to "scare off"
multiple attackers, possibly deter a rapist, or a
weaponed attacker. The aggressor(s) will be forced to
think twice about the sanity of picking a fight with you;
if you get a homicidal look or a maniacal grin, while
emptying your bladder (on the other hand, if you look
like a deer when you do it, you will probably become
humiliated prey). This not only protects you from a
ruptured bladder and a hospital visit, but it reminds the
attacker(s) that no one wants to fight a lunatic (or
molest someone that soiled themselves). Soggy pants are a
small price to pay to get out of a potentially life
Other symptoms are after the "Fight" and/or the "Flight".
It is seldom shown that after the incident the winner often
has the tremors and can't stop shaking. Many people who have
come close to (or had) serious car accidents can attest to
these reactions. Vomiting and nausea are also quite
A physical fight will usually last about 1-30
seconds once the blows begin. Do not be tricked by movie
scenes where the hero and the villain bludgeon each other
back and forth for 5 minutes. A fight is an explosion;
fast, hard, and over before most people had time to
really react. The body, and more importantly the mind,
can't take the damage that can be dished out in a few
Fights are not pleasant, and they are not like the
movies. They are violent acts that happen in an instant,
seem to last forever, and have ramifications that last for