Occasionally, you will hear an aikido instructor say that it is your responsibility to protect your attacker. Sometimes, too, you will hear another instructor disagree, saying that it’s uke’s responsibility to look after him- or herself.
Below is a quote from Mitsuge Saotome concerning our responsibility to protect our attackers. Saotome is not just talking about protecting our aikido practice partners — he’s talking about protecting attackers wherever we find them in life.
It’s an ancient perspective, and at the same time, a set of skills that remain an intense challenge today. See what you think.
(This quote comes from Saotome’s 1993 book, Aikido and the Harmony of Nature, Shambhala, Boston.)
True power is found in the spiritual world, and true self-defense is the protection of the enemy’s karma. The movement of defense is not a game; it is a very serious reality. When the enemy tries to kill you, the only choice is life or death. If you are weak, you cannot defend your own karma or the enemy’s. Weakness is an excuse, an easy way out. If you cannot defend yourself and fall beneath the enemy’s attack, the enemy is guilty and becomes a murderer. But you too have sinned because of your weakness, for you’ve made a murderer. And the karma of the enemy and yourself is the same.
If the enemy attacks and you kill the enemy, then you are the murderer. The result is the same. It does not matter who was right and who was wrong, for the enemy is your shadow. You and the enemy are one life. If you kill the enemy, you are committing suicide. There are no excuses. The Way is very strict. You must defend yourself, and you must defend the enemy. This is your responsibility.
“True victory is not defeating an enemy. True victory gives love and changes the enemy’s heart.” O Sensei’s great satori was the realization that love is true power, the application of the wisdom of God, not the narrow application of human strength. The great spiritual teachers have always taught that you must love your enemy; this is the highest love. If there is love and respect, there is no enemy. When you are no longer blinded by hatred and ego, the enemy becomes a part of yourself. The enemy becomes a teacher to help refine your concepts and your technique, the necessary counterbalance that sharpens your senses. Unclouded by hatred, you can accurately reflect the other’s position and movement, and understand the other’s life and weaknesses. The most important point of Budo training is to understand the enemy. If you understand, you cannot hate. Only in this way can you discover the true path of harmony. (p. 142)
Saotome includes in Aikido and the Harmony of Nature a counterpoint to this personal responsibility, suggesting that not everyone can shoulder it all the time, and that our overall human responsibility has numerous profound aspects.
Although the same as the other forms of life, humanity is also different. We have been given the gift of compassion. We protect our weak, for the weak are often our greatest strength. We respect and revere the spirit of God within each individual. We do not blindly follow, for we have been given intellect and have developed morality. We search for truth and try to move closer to the Universal Consciousness. (p. 100)
“The weak are often our greatest strength.” Saotome doesn’t elaborate on this statement. Although I can imagine several interpretations, I wonder what he meant.
Image link: Protecting Your Young