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R.A. Robertson
08-18-2009, 12:12 PM
What is the opposite of a martial artist? And, more generally, what is the opposite of "martial?"

You might be tempted to say "a pacifist," or "peaceful." And indeed, we could leave it at that. But something that fascinates me about language is having terms that designate a particular concept, but often lack good terms for its logical opposite.

In the case of "martial artist," why is it not common to speak also of, say, a "concordial artist," or a "paxian artist?" (Not surprisingly, my spell-checker doesn't even recognize these.) In fact, why is it that most people know from childhood that Mars (from whence the term "martial") is the god of war, but far fewer people can name an equivalent avatar of peace? (i.e. "Concordia" or "Pax.")

Partly, it may be that war is often seen as something active, a thing to be waged; while peace is generally thought of as passive -- nothing more than the absence of war. This impression is understandable. After all, we could just as easily say that health is the absence of disease. In this view, peace and health are non-things.

And yet we know that true health requires activity and vigilance. It requires exercise and discipline. It requires intelligence and situational awareness. Health arises from a robust immune system capable of repelling invaders. Health... well, gosh, it looks like I'm right back to using martial terminology.

So it is, in large part, with national and international health, which, when robust, is characterized as peaceful. Peace may arise from a variety of activities and machinations, from defense to diplomacy to trade relations to forceful intimidation and subtle espionage, to cultural exchange, and more.

But a nations's peace with the world is one thing, while "inner" peace is another. Domestic peace means creating an environment of prosperity and freedom for the populace. People need access to quality education and honorable, meaningful labor. People need creative outlets. They need exposure to the profound meaning and beauty of the arts, and the breathtaking discoveries of science. Such things do not magically appear in the vacuum between wars although they certainly do tend to better thrive in the absence of fear, intimidation, anxiety, interference, and the waste of resources.

Arguably, all martial enterprise is aimed at securing these very conditions. Whether defensive or imperialistic, warfare is conceived as a means to protect and empower a particular people -- often, regrettably, at the expense of other people.

And therein lies the paradox. War and peace are not necessarily opposites. The purpose of war is peace, even though war destroys peace. By the same token, the means of engendering and fostering peace are necessarily matters of defense and the elimination of hostile forces.

A warrior then (or martial artist), may be seen as one who strives against strife. Yet, a life of striving is a life of strife, so to be complete, a warrior must also live in accord with accord. A warrior practices war, but what word do we give those whose discipline and specialty is peace?

It's true that we have terms like "mediator," "arbiter," "peacemaker," and "moderator." These are actually pretty good candidates for answering my original question. Yet by now hopefully you will have realized why the original question is flawed.

In asking about opposites, we set ourselves up for exclusives. If you are one, you cannot be the other. Whereas the point I am trying to make is that in order to be one, you MUST be the other.
Part of the path of aikido is to reconcile opposites -- to turn them into complements. Aikido is often referred to as the "Art of Peace." In fact, this has become so popular that many would prefer it if aikido were not considered as a martial art. Others insist that aikido is meaningless if not acknowledged as a true martial way.

Such dissent and division might not be necessary if only we had better words. In medicine, we understand and routinely accept that a healer actively engages pathology, and unflinchingly will resort to violence if it promotes the overall goal of health and well-being. Why cannot the same be true in aikido?

So extreme is the devotion to one's particular view of aikido that people will tangle themselves in knots trying to avoid the language and practice of violence. There is tremendous risk of delusion in believing that skill in aikido can result in freedom from harm, either the giving or the receiving. At best, aikido can simply reduce the necessity of harm, and can teach effective action without the presumption of harm. But as with the surgeon, the skills are incomplete without the tools of violence and the knowledge of how to employ them wisely, compassionately, and parsimoniously.

As for the other camp, it is equally dangerous to see aikido as no more than a combat sport. To imagine that aikido is nothing but self defense is to miss the essential core of the art, which is the confluence of forces acting in accord, in all areas of life.
To address the problem of War and Peace, an army of peacemakers is needed. Peacemakers who are willing to take a stand against the disease of unwarranted violence, while understanding that force is occasionally necessary. What is needed is an advanced armed force whose mission is to bring all human beings together in accord. We need individuals who appreciate the unity of these apparently contradictory capacities, and act accordingly.

What would we call such a person? What name do we give to such an occupation?

If English fails, even with its rich Latin genealogy, then perhaps Japanese can offer hope. "Aikidoka" would serve perfectly, if only we could get past the mutually limiting philosophies of violence and nonviolence. The aikidoka is necessarily warrior (budoka) AND conciliator.

I wish there were a good word in English that combined these concepts in their proper synthesis. For now, back to Latin.

In addition to Mars, Concordia, and Pax, the Romans also acknowledged a goddess named Salus. Salus personified health, safety, prosperity, security, salvation, and welfare. If I had to choose, I suppose I would rather be a Salusian Artist rather than a Martial Artist. Ultimately, however, I would mate Mars and Salus to produce an offspring, perhaps named Marsalus.

Had history and mythology in the West been both more kind and more pragmatic, we would all know of Marsalus, and the name would be revered. Marsalus would be the deity that fiercely defends and protects, while promoting health, harmony, and happiness. I would happily consider myself a marsalusian artist, and I would not feel silly in saying so.

Unfortunately, it is silly, and I am not seriously recommending that people adopt the term. But neither will I recommend that we allow our thinking be bounded by our language. A deficiency in terms should never be an excuse for a deficiency in concepts.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

www.stillpointaikido.com (http://www.stillpointaikido.com)

08-18-2009, 05:47 PM
i liked this piece, Ross--thanks.
It covers an area of thought that i am very much interested in, as an aikidoka and a student of speech/communication (eg rhetoric, conflict resolution, etc).
In continuing the comparison of war and peace, i bring up one difference betwen the two, that seems significant to me:
war necessarily assumes a set of 'tools,' and they are usually physical--namely weapons. if we trace war through the ages, we also trace a continuing evolution and proliferation of tools for waging war. Again, these are physical things, and a person needs only acquire the most rudimentary blunt object to express the violence that is characteristic of war. Of course, as war evolves (i use that term cautiously because i think war is more degenerative than anything :)) so does a certain craft and a certain strategy, etc, but fundamentally, in war power/victory is usually achieved by possessing these 'tools' or possessing ones that are better than those of the advesary.

on the other hand, 'peace' seems to always be at a loss because it requires a different set of 'tools' for realization. I cant pick up a photon-induced-happiness-gun and taze people into bliss.

My question is thus,
how can we reconcile this difference between the two, so that war stops being the easy go-to reaction in our world?

(sorry in advance, for my hastily constructed comments)

08-18-2009, 08:10 PM
I think peace is the middle ground, being pulled, between extreme order and extreme disorder and the struggle (war) is to keep from going to one extreme or the other.
Martial is having the ability to pull toward one extreme or the other.


11-04-2009, 08:32 PM
Awesome piece! :)

R.A. Robertson
11-13-2009, 01:49 PM
My question is thus,
how can we reconcile this difference between the two, so that war stops being the easy go-to reaction in our world?

(sorry in advance, for my hastily constructed comments)

Hi Dave,

You should construct more hasty comments... really!

My thoughts come from a long background of being very much anti-war. Ironically, it has been aikido that has slowly turned my thinking around toward an appreciation of war, conflict, and their inevitability. Little by little, I'm making my peace with conflict.

The universe sustains us, but only within certain parameters. Outside these zones, the world is extremely hostile towards life and comfort. So no matter what we do or how we evolve, I think an element of confrontation with the edges of these zones is unavoidable. In this sense, "war" is a fundamental, eternal, fact of existence. We can embrace this truth without subscribing to the perpetuation of its horrors.

A possible path of reconciliation might begin with the acceptance of why war is the easy go-to reaction. From there, I think with vehicles like aikido we can begin to change, not the nature of war, but its character, if that's not too fine a distinction.

What I mean is, we can agree to go to war to resolve some of our differences, but we can also agree that some forms of warfare are better than others. On a global scale, we see the conversation turning from nuclear annihilation to winning hearts and minds. We are not out of the woods by a long shot, but that change in conversation is profoundly significant.

On an interpersonal level, we see how arguments can spiral out of control and do irrevocable damage to relationships. So perhaps we resolve to never argue again, but then we hit a limit, and there we are again, arguing and fighting.

Some wise psychologists have suggested that, while arguing is bad, it's when we stop arguing that the relationship is really over. So what we really need is not to stop arguing, but a better way of arguing.

I see an angry argument as a kind of small scale war. It does not have to lead to physical abuse to still do damage. If we could come to understand that such warfare is common even among lovers, then perhaps there may be a healthy reason for it.

So what I'm really trying to say is that rather than trying to eliminate war and conflict from our lives, we should look for increasingly healthy ways to go about it.

Brandon Williams Craig says that "Aikido is conflict done well." I very much subscribe to that view these days.

As to the history of war, I'm fond of pointing out that the victors are almost always those who out-cooperate the enemy. The evolution of weaponry of which you speak can only happen through concerted efforts of research, manufacture, transportation, and deployment through coordinated action and staging.

We say this nation beat that nation because of superior weaponry, and that is almost always the case (though note the instances of successful asymmetrical warfare to underscore my main point). But our focus on the technology masks the underlying proof of success via human cooperation.

The express results of this harmony may be horrific, and this must change. But let us at least begin to recognize that the real power of victory has come from people working together, even as they aim to work against others.

As to your photon-induced-happiness-gun, I'm with you. But my pessimistic side wonders if even that wouldn't get perverted into pacifying a population to the point where they will accept the worst kind of injustices.

We need our outrage. We need our will to fight. But we also need better tools, better strategies, better habits of thinking, so that our fighting can be (dare I say it) healthy fighting.

I do think it's possible. I do think it's necessary. I think we still have a long way to go, but this is the central reason why I persist in doing aikido.

There must be a better way. Aikido is my chosen path for exploring and discovering it. Even the smallest grains of insight are priceless treasures.



12-04-2009, 02:55 PM
re: What is the opposite of a martial artist? And, more generally, what is the opposite of "martial?"

I like the Wikipedia def of Aikido:

Aikido (合気道, aikidō?) is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying (with) life energy"[1] or as "the Way of harmonious spirit."[2] Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

To defend themselves and to protect the attacker from injury - an excellent concept.

In Aikido training the beginner can neither attack or defend well and in turn cannot protect uke. I find it interesting that as our skills grow and we become "more martial" there is the potential of protecting the uke.

As hot and cold are not opposite, but points of temperature, perhaps martial does not have an opposite.

Just some thoughts.


R.A. Robertson
12-07-2009, 11:52 AM

Good thoughts.