Written by L. Christopher Bird
The topic of violence and the Jedi Path can be a tricky one. Violence is one of those things that is generally accepted to be a bad thing, but you know that saying about absolutes. Non-violence can be a powerful force, probably most effectively employed by Mahatma Ghandi, who in turn inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Another less known proponent of non-violence is Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, usually referred to by Aikido practitioners as “Ōsensei” (great teacher).
Because we associate the Jedi with being a “force for good” many tend to think of non-violence as a “Jedi trait”. But if we look at the fictional narrative, this is clearly not the case. So what is the association with Jedi and violence?
The Jedi in the mythology employ violence on many occasion and use violence or the threat of violence as a way to resolve conflict. The use of Jedi violence is usually quick and judicious, and often times, overwhelming. But when a Jedi employed violence they did so without passion, without attachment. That even when maiming or killing, the Jedi were doing so in defense, and their motivation was compassion. It may seem discordant to think that killing could be a compassionate act, but when they can kill without attachment, that is exactly what it was.
When we see a mythical Jedi kill, they do so without passion or other emotions that would cloud the act. When a Jedi employs violence, even deadly violence it is because of the necessity of the act, not because they take any kind of pleasure from the exercise of their martial ability. By not having the common associations of anger, hate, passion with a violent act, one can do the necessary thing while at peace, and motivated by compassion.
Part of this compassion is the Jedi of myth employed violence so that others would not have to. My study in Aikido informs me that when one injures or kills another person, it is not just violence against another individual, but it is violence against self. Generally speaking, a person that hurts another has something wrong with them. One could say they are “out of balance.” The commission of violent acts further injures the psyche of the attacker. The Jedi of myth placed themselves where they could defend others, and they applied their martial techniques, so that other beings that did not have their training and ability to kill without attachment would not have to suffer the consequences that come when one commits a violent act, even in defense. In this way, Jedi not only ended a threat, they prevented further suffering that would have come to other beings if they had to address the threat directly, damaging their psyche, and potentially suffering physical harm as well.
Now we as real Jedi cannot wantonly apply violence to ensure a quick resolution or outcome without legal consequences. However, I think it is consistent with Jedi philosophy to, apply violence sparingly in a time of need or defense. Violence has the potential to be the moral choice, and at times may be the correct action. However this is not consistent with the philosophy of Aikido. I am not only a Jedi, but I am a black belt and instructor in an art that is rooted in non-violence.
Aikido teaches us that if we meet violence with violence we create what is called a revenge-revenge cycle. This is a situation where one party perpetuates a violent act on another, and at a later time the victim comes back, maybe with allies, and responds with a violent act of their own, which in turn causes the original aggressor to further retaliate. This creates a cycle of greater and greater violent acts. What it does not do is resolve conflict. Aikido teaches another alternative, when one is met with violence, one responds with positive non-violent action. With the application of non-violent martially sound technique, one can balance the equation, by restoring balance to one who seeks to attack another.
This “Aiki attitude” seems to take the fight right out of an aggressor. The single time I had to use my training in a self-defense situation, it actually prevented an attack from even occurring. This man, who had a history of domestic abuse did not know how to react to someone who was neither cowering like a victim nor being aggressive like an opponent. Though he raised his hand to strike a few times, my posture and attitude of non-violence dissuaded him from following through with his intention to clean my clock. It was a bit like Jedi Mind trick except I did not wave my hand and say, “you don’t want to fight me,” but the confusion playing on his face and him shaking his head in disbelief and going back into his apartment almost made it seem like one.
My training in Aikido informs how I walk the Jedi Path, but this intersection of Aikido philosophy and the example of the fictional Jedi has me a bit in a quandary. My Jedi philosophy informs me that the use of judiciously applied violence can be the right thing to do. My Aikido philosophy informs me that non-violence is the best way to resolve conflict. The thing is, while these views seem to be in opposition to one another, I do not think either of them are wrong. So which will I choose? I honestly don’t know, I suppose that I will not be so set with only a single solution that I will be able to act quickly, consistent with ALL my training, Aikido and Jedi, and allow the Force to guide me to right action if I am in a situation where I have to act martially.
To live the life entirely consistent with the Aikido philosophy of non-violence is an ideal, but I think an attainable one. But I am enough of a pragmatist to know that the situations I find myself in are usually far from ideal. I would even go so far to say that it is possible to walk the Jedi Path without ever employing violence. I believe that this is probably preferable for many reasons. However I think of a friend of mine who thought that it was totally inappropriate for Yoda to use a lightsaber, saying he was beyond such things, that with his level of skill, he would not need to rely on anything but his mastery of the Force. My response to this argument is that a Jedi would not fail to avail themselves of viable options, for Master Yoda it is the use of a lightsaber, for someone like myself in the real world, I think there is room to have martial technique outside of Aikido in my “arsenal of options” even if my preference would be resolution through the path of Aiki.
I do not have a solution that makes the Jedi path completely consistent with my Aiki path, but I think that neither path requires it to be consistent with the other. My stance on violence will greatly depend on the environment and context of the situation where a stance needs to be made. I cannot give a single answer applicable to any and all situations, and that is an alright stance to have. After all as a Jedi, I have no use for absolutes.
L. Christopher Bird is the founder of Jedi Path Academy. His current projects include developing a comic book series, and a book on Jedi Philosophy. In his day-to-day life, he is likely to be dressed in a kilt, or in a Jedi robe.