Kindness as Self Defense by Ross Robertson
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Many in aikido are drawn to it for its emphasis of mutual
protection. Some "Nice-Guy" types are perhaps tired of getting the
short end of the stick, and need to learn some spiritual muscle
without sacrificing their self-image. Others may have played the
dominance and control game long enough to be tired of it, and are
looking for methods of sharing power rather than perpetuate win/lose
defaults. Some people may instinctively have a life-long habit of
serving mutual interests, but are happy to finally find a discipline
that augments their inherent disposition.
We may generally agree that treating others with kindness is a good
thing. But it's always a bonus to realize that we can make our own
lives better when doing so. Of course, there's nothing wrong with pure
unselfish altruism, but even the saints among us can continue to serve
better and longer by keeping themselves healthy and capable.
Here is a list of ten things you can practice in daily life as acts of
kindness that are also good self defense.
1) Let others go first.
When you open the door for others, you can keep your eye on them. You
can get a good sense of what lies beyond by watching their
behavior. It's useful to practice extending your awareness behind you
as you approach doorways, perhaps noticing any information to be seen
in reflective surfaces.
Similarly, on the highways and roads, let people pass you who want
by. If you're in the flow or doing the speed limit, the faster cars
are more likely to be ticketed than you. Competing with a reckless
driver only doubles the danger, and it's possible that the person
you're trying to hold back might have a legitimate emergency. If the
driver seems truly threatening to others, keep yourself and your
passengers safe first, and call the cops if it's really that bad.
2) Greet strangers pleasantly.
Unless you're in a culture that considers this rude, it's a good idea
to make contact with people you encounter. Brief eye contact, a smile,
and possibly a nice word will give you a chance to gauge their
response and know their character. It also requires that you be
engaged and aware of your surroundings. Be sure, however, to not come
across as too meek or shy, nor arrogant and forward.
3) Be generous.
People who say you can't buy friendship, affection, or loyalty are
wrong. In fact it's very difficult to acquire allies without some form
of economic exchange. The giving does need to be sincere, however, and
within one's capabilities. Too much of an unnecessary sacrifice is
likely to place an awkward burden on the recipient, and may lead to
resentment on either party.
4) Practice cheerfulness.
Being self-absorbed tends to reduce the expansiveness of one's
awareness. A good mood, if not carried to excess, promotes an eager
embrace of our surroundings. While it's healthy to be honest about all
our emotions, feeling good is a habit that can be practiced. And it's
a fact that people are more attracted to and willing to help someone
with infectious good humor and disposition. Helping others feel good
makes the whole environment more pleasant, and a healthy feedback-loop
5) Maintain an attractive appearance.
Whatever you were born with, you can present in a pleasing
manner. People tend to respond to a charismatic face and voice. It
shows that you care about what signals you put into their eyes and
ears. Again, when people are favorably disposed toward you, they are
more likely to assist you in your aims. Beware of vanity as this may
6) Be solitary.
Despite the above recommendations, it's a good idea to learn to be
comfortable when alone. Everyone needs some recharge time, albeit in
different amounts. Developing a healthy relationship with yourself
gives you a better basis for understanding and forgiving others. This
will also help you to respect others' needs for privacy and
Try to see if you can speak less than the person you are talking
to. Even if you are the featured speaker, pay attention to your
audience and get feedback from them in whatever ways are
appropriate. You will be more able to detect early warning signs of
hostility and take preemptive action if necessary. But just the act of
being a good listener is often enough to establish rapport.
8) Give benefit of doubt.
We are all driven by beliefs, but rarely have all the facts. Fear,
suspicion, and dread easily become habits, and can even prove
self-fulfilling. Kick the addiction to cynicism and paranoia, and
practice the opposite. Willfully, mindfully, and wisely practice the
belief that all things can be turned toward benefit.
9) Make room for every emotion...
... your own as well as others. Certainly not every expression of
emotion is acceptable, but it's useful to distinguish between the
feeling and its particular manifestation. While there are no unhealthy
emotions, there are unhealthy addictions to habitual
responses. Developing a calm and centered comfort zone for all
emotions allows for self-forgiveness and compassion for others. The
ability to direct any form of emotional energy toward a benign outcome
is at the root of effective self defense.
10) Give praise.
Although no one likes obsequious and ingratiating behavior, it
shouldn't be difficult to find something to compliment in all
sincerity. This facilitates the practice of noticing details about
people, while establishing a connection with them at the same time.
The above list is just a random sampling of niceties which, if
properly deployed, stand to dramatically increase quality of life. If
the suggestions seem Pollyanna, consider: the common theme here is
awareness and sensitivity. Top of the hierarchy for any effective
defense strategy is keen situational awareness. Paying attention to
your surroundings is the first, middle, and last tactical element in
Intelligence and diplomacy go hand in hand. We are stronger by
cultivating allies than by creating enemies, but both require intimate
understanding. While we cannot prevent or foresee every attack, we can
at least reduce the number of reasons to be perceived as a threat or
opportunity. And when diplomacy fails, we should be positioned to
remain linked to our adversary in ways that are likely to reduce
surprise and optimize control tactics. The old expression about
keeping friends close and enemies closer very much applies.
Maybe you're worried that, by practicing kindness, you'll be taken
advantage of. Or, that you'll be perceived as weak and
vulnerable. Unfortunately this fear is well founded. This is why there
is the need for discipline and the study of the wise use of force. The
goal, after all, is to preserve our integrity and quality of life, not
to make a practice of self-defeating sacrifice. As the Sufis may say,
trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.
A mature person will realize how tough-minded one must be in order to
effectively embody compassion. Likewise, one experienced in the ways
of combat knows that the most efficient method of engagement is to
never have to deploy force. So it is that the warrior and the
statesman come to a common place, and begin to speak a common
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies -- in the final sense -- a theft from those who hunger and
are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This is not a way
of life at all, in any true sense.... It is humanity hanging from a
cross of iron."
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
© Ross Robertson, 2004
Point Aikido Center
Austin, Texas, USA
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