Meditations on Violence by Nick Lowry

“Some retreat from violence and instead become immature pacifiers; this is the one who puts up with it all, the one who suffers in silence, the one who hides from conflict…”

nick-lowry-faceSome starting points: How do we hold the realities of violence? How do we interact with the suffering and trauma of violence? How do we transform and heal in the face of violence? What do dojos and budo (martial arts) have to do with all this?

We are all touched by violence. No one comes through the door of a dojo who has not been marked by this fact. Some are victims, others are victimizers. Some want relief from fear, others want to gain more power and control over their world in the face of chaos. Some dream of becoming a hero, wielding power like a weapon and doing violence for “good and just” purposes; vanquishing evildoers for the greater cause. Others just enjoy the paradoxical dance, the dance that turns so beautifully on the edge of something so ugly– the dance that somehow, transcends.

All must look deeply into the shadow of violence in order to transform it. To Heal. This is the price we pay for the power that we gain by learning this potent dance. The price is high, but necessary, for what we do not look into deeply, what we keep in our shadow and continue to neglect will inevitably come out— too often in some sideways and tragically inappropriate way, and we find ourselves asking, “Why did I just do that?”… “What is wrong with me that I would do That?” “How could I be the perpetrator of violence?”

So, how do we enter this dance? Insight requires reflection.

Some may pursue the path toward becoming the Ultimate Bad-Ass — As my friend Larry’s old t-shirt said, ”For yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, Because I AM the Baddest S.O.B. in the Valley!”–a tragic response to deep fear that plays out as an immature, posturing warrior. The bully archetype–cowardice and impotence dressing up like power, and it is sadly true that dojos certainly can play into these fantasies. Young men climb into octagonal cages every day at an alarming clip. Ultimate warriors abound. How sad.

Some retreat from violence and instead become immature pacifiers; this is the one who puts up with it all, the one who suffers in silence, the one who hides from conflict, the one who embodies fear under the guise of “keeping the peace,” but who is really just keeping the status quo. “Don’t rock the boat, stay quiet, we don’t wake the sleeping dragons. It will all work out some day.” Stoic and long suffering, dying inside by degrees. Tragic as well.

Some dream, of becoming the Hero. Frankly, they have seen too many movies and become confused; they often think that heroes are the ones solving the problems in the world with violence. They sadly mistake wielding power with “being heroic.” The aspiration toward the archetype may be good, but those attracted to the path of the hero in its modern forms are in need of more deep education on what “heroic” means. And more pointedly they need specific education on the peculiar tendency for violence to breed more of itself—solving naught. Just making more problems. In the truly heroic world, force is a last, last, last resort, and the hero carries sacrifice, not glory. Heroes make swords into ploughshares.

For myself and my own tragic journey, I wanted both the power and the fearlessness that the dance of violence could give me. I became infatuated with confidence, enthralled with the more efficient way to do the deed.

When I remember first entering training about 27 years ago, seeing aikido was love at first sight. Here was power and truth and violence wrapped up in beauty and ethics. Here is what I had been seeking since boyhood; all contained in a magical place called the Dojo.

I can tell you, that even in the dojo, I felt touched by violence: as a green belt, the first time being thrown against my will in a big fall in toshu randori—Very Scary—so out of control , so sudden and final; then later, around sankyu having the ugly energy of violence visit me again in randori as my “partner/sempai” knelt over my pinned shoulder, pulled my head up by my hair, straining my neck, to whisper in my ear with a voice dripping with malice, “You love this shit? I love this shit!”

I can still hear his voice. My blood turned cold. Fear coursed through me, “He’s going to kill me.” was the thought.

Lessons in violence, Lessons in fear, and Lessons in power.

From these early experiences, my training turned toward greater and greater refining of skill—this is what drove me as an uchideshi, class after class, day after day. I felt compelled to appropriate that power that had so controlled and threatened me. The power that had been employed upon me, I HAD to become capable of wielding that weapon in my own hands. The drive was overarching. It was a passion, obsession.

Years go by… and sure enough.

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