In some instances, we are unable to express our emotions or needs with empathy and the use of force may be necessary to protect yours or someone else’s wellbeing.

Almost every day of the week, I make my way to the ground floor of a building in the fashion district of Surry Hills. Here, I find fellow conspirators from across the globe – Ed is a chef from Chile, Ben is an ex-army security consultant from the USA, Dave is an architect. We meet up to train in the Israeli self-defense technique of Krav Maga.

I won’t go into the detail of what Krav Maga involves. Suffice it to say the technique is brutal. It is designed to be simple and effective at dealing with threats. There are no rules or regions of your opponent that are off limits – he or she is threatening your life.

How can one practice such an intense fighting system yet live with a philosophy oriented toward peace, harmony and compassion? I get asked this question from time to time, as a contrast with my work here at Owlsight.

Not all encounters can be de-escalated and physical confrontation avoided. It is in these situations we can employ the protective use of force, rather than the violent use of force.

Protective and Violent Uses of Force

The difference between the two is subtle. When we use force in a protective manner, we do so with the intention of defending and safeguarding that which is important to us. This might be another person, or it could even be us, in a self-defence scenario.

When we use force in a violent way, we aren’t motivated by an urge to protect something, but rather by a desire to punish the offending party. We judge the person as morally inferior or evil perhaps, and our use of force reflects this intention.

In my years of practice and teaching Krav Maga, this is the approach I’ve taken. Force does not equal violence. There are times when a confrontation has already broken out. At this point, it is too late to use the principles of compassionate communication to connect with the needs and emotions of the person.

Consider the image. A person is kicking someone on the ground, and you’re off to the side trying to empathise with the person.

“Are you feeling angry because you’re needing some acceptance?”

What do you think the chances the person stops kicking are?

In these instances, if you feel physically comfortable, the protective use of force is warranted.

Minimum Force

There is a principle, common in martial arts circles, that I think encapsulates this philosophy well.

Like water, apply your strengths and attributes to achieve maximum result with minimum effort.
– Sun Tzu

We use the minimum amount of force required to achieve our desired result.

Let’s say someone grabs your arm and is showing you unwanted attention, seemingly drunk. It might be a bit of an overreaction to break their wrist, smash their face into the bar and then kick them on the floor. Minimum force, to achieve the maximum result.

Now, I’ll grant that being a judge of the minimum force required is not a simple task. Often it can require years of self-defence training with a body and spatial awareness. What does play a role in the level of force we apply, is whether we have a protective or violent mindset.

Think about that same scenario from above – someone grabbing your arm at a bar. With a protective mindset, we recognise that there is a threat confronting us that needs to be dealt with to ensure our safety. We’re doing what we can to protect ourselves.

With a violent mindset, we judge the other person. Thoughts like “How dare they touch me in this way!”, “They have no right to do that!” cross our mind. With these thoughts often comes a desire to see the person punished for their actions as if this will right the injustice. In the split seconds that these thoughts and urges arise, it becomes so much easier for us to be excessive in our use of force; smashing their head on the bar and kicking them while they’re down.

There are times when the use of force is unavoidable, but the way we approach using the force can change how heavy-handed we are and potentially reduce our happiness.

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