Aikido and other martial arts have their share of clichés, but one in particular is really starting to bother me.
The idea of a "street fight," or what happens "out there, on the street," (as opposed to in here, in the dojo) is held up as some sort of ultimate trial. This scenario brings to mind random violence, maybe an attempt at robbery, and most likely multiple attackers. (I doubt that many of us imagine ourselves participating in a gang war.)
The thing is, most statistics I've seen indicate that the largest percentage of violent crime involves an assailant known to the victim. True, one could end up facing an angry co-worker in the "street" or parking lot, or whatever, but people are more likely to face violence at home or in the work place. That's not to say that random violent crime does not happen, it just is not as likely as non-random violent crime.
So why this attraction to street fights? Why do they hold such a prominent place in our collective imagination?
Part of the reason that I ask this question is that we had a very disturbing incident here in Harrisburg, PA earlier this week around 2 PM in a fairly busy part of town. Here's an excerpt from the news story:
According to police, Neff (the victim) was walking south along North Street, coming from the vicinity of the State Museum and heading toward Locust Street, when she noticed Travis (the assailant) talking to himself.
She could not understand what he was saying and passed by, according to police. They said he yelled or spoke loudly after she passed him.
Neff told police she felt a blow to her back as though she had been hit hard. She did not realize that she had been stabbed until she turned around and saw Travis behind her, holding a large knife slick with blood, police said.
Travis said something incoherent and left, police said. Neff collapsed against a building on the southwest corner of North Third and State.
As officers fanned out through downtown, Travis turned up a few blocks away at the police station in the 100 block of Walnut Street. He was taken into custody without incident.
The article states that the woman lost a lot of blood, but survived the incident.
This is not a "typical" street fight scenario (whatever that is), but it is
an example of random violence. I'd like to think that I'm more aware of my surroundings than most people. I imagine myself in the victim's place, hearing a loud shout, turning, seeing the knife, throwing the guy, pinning him, and taking his knife -- just like in the dojo. Except that, in reality, I ignore mentally ill homeless people too. I don't make eye contact, and I can see myself behaving just like the victim did, regardless of how perceptive I think I am.
So, what's the most dangerous situation we can face? Is it a street fight where we are attacked by street-hardened criminals out for our wallets? How about angry co-workers picking a fight in the office (yes, this actually happened to me)? What about the truly random violence of the mentally ill like the situation above?
In my dojo, we focus on principles, proper body movement, and strong technique. We are fully aware that dojo attacks are not "realistic" attacks, but we also realize that proper application of aikido principles can be learned through studying those attacks and our responses. However, we sometimes even fall into the cliché of thinking that a street fight is the most dangerous challenge we can face.
So, what do you folks think about the nature of violence and how we perceive it?