Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Compassionate thinking

One of my principal teachers, Kyoshi Adam Bradshaw, teaches that the martial arts can and should develop critical, creative and compassionate thinking.
  • Creative thinking engages the imagination to see more than one option (most of the time)
  • Critical thinking includes dispassionate evaluation when choosing a course of action
  • Compassionate thinking biases us to prefer actions that prevent or reduce pain in others and ourselves
If it seems paradoxical that martial arts, whose subject matter include detailed and systematic study of methods of violence and inducing pain and injury can teach compassionate thinking, read on!

At one extreme consider the compulsively angry person who, when provoked, responds violently. Not many options there, and not much compassion either. This person is failing to use all three forms of thinking; (s)he is merely reactive.

At the other extreme is the avowed non-violent person who believes that violence is unacceptable, always. Such a person is not prepared to use violence to stop a violent aggressor even to stop serial acts of violence, and must find other means, or be reduced to being a victim or by-stander. If other means are found all is well and good, but if there is an insufficiency of creative thinking, or simply no viable alternative, (s)he may hold true to non-violence yet greater evils may result.

By contrast, the trained martial artist, familiar with the ways of violence has the option of using it as a positive action, as when Vladimir Putin -- Russian Prime Minister and 6th dan in Judo -- saved a camera crew from a charging tiger by nonchalantly picking up a tranquilizer gun and shooting it. Sure, the tiger felt some pain, but far greater suffering was averted.

Here's another story: Tai Chi instructor Arthur Rosenfeld explains how he neutralized his own road-rage by doing something nice for a guy who was stupidly honking him in a take-out line. Instead of getting into an altercation and teaching the guy a (painful) lesson, he simply paid for the guy's coffees (without telling him), and drove off. The feel-good bit is that the guy then paid for the next customer, clearly prompted by Rosenfeld's creative and compassionate action, and from there the chain continued for several hours, cheered up a lot of people, and even got reported in the media.

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By training in the martial arts we can lessen the negative effects of fear and anger on our actions. We train to enable us to perform at our best -- in every sense -- in difficult and even life-threatening situations.