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Martin Luther King, Jr. – A true martial artist

A martial artist making a difference
A martial artist making a difference
Original photograph by Paul Rest

The typical martial arts image of someone breaking bones and wrecking everything is a strong one in our culture. Jackie Chan adds humor and a degree of slapstick to the mixture. Some humor but not a lot occurs in the “Transporter” movies, typical for the “action” genre from Hollywood.

The Founders of this country were concerned with establishing and maintaining our freedoms as divine and “unalienable rights.” Through a Revolution, a Civil War and the westward march, the American philosophy about violence grew to include a love of guns and combativeness (see any John Wayne movie is you doubt this).

Yet, as anyone who has been in combat will tell you, or has been in a Civil Rights demonstration turned violent, or has been the brunt of violence by family, friends, neighbors or by the police who are empowered to serve and protect, violence is terrible-- and not the answer.

The genius of those who have walked among us like Mahatma Gandhi, O’Sensei and Martin Luther King, Jr., were that these individuals saw through the cultural illusions to the undeniable reality that for us to exist in a state of harmony with each other, violence will not work.

When I was first exposed to non-violence, my first steps as a beginner were classes on non-violence. I had to learn to relax when someone got in my face using foul language trying to find my triggers. It wasn’t easy for me. I grew up in a rough and tumble Midwest where any challenge or insult resulted is a test of wills and often a fists. My trigger points were right there on the surface.

I edged into non-violence through my growing up with a strong sense of right and wrong. Traveling on family vacations through the South, I saw the segregated facilities were not only unequal, they were wrong. And the conversations I would over-hear in gas stations and other public places among whites in the South were laced with profanities, ignorance and prejudice.

With a fair number of Civil Rights demonstrations under my belt, including having a confrontation with then Gov. George Wallace who was running for President that year, I was ready to travel to Washington, D.C. to hear Dr. King speak. The cold January weekend at a Presbyterian Church off Dupont Circle had Dr. King and others notables speaking about war (in this case, the Vietnam Conflict), Civil Rights and then addressing what those who were there could do in our local communities.

I have to admit; a lot of core message of what he was saying was lost to me until I began my study of Aikido. Once I got my body, spirit and mind lined up together, it all made sense. What I saw in O’Sensei was a man who had seen war, violence and death, and in a supra-militaristic culture was able to receive the gift of peace from the Heavens. Dr. King’s own journey included the powerful example of Gandhi’s life and daily danger, all no doubt honed to fine edge with his horrifying experience(s) in the Birmingham jail.

We all have our own journeys of discovering the non-violent, and violent, parts of ourselves. The dojos we train in are the perfect sacred spaces to feel free to let our barriers and prejudices down and allow, as Dr. King might say, “…the soothing waters of Peace to flow through us.”

Please remember Dr. King and his work when you train.

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