Reconciling Recreational Violence

April 27, 2002

I had an interesting discussion about violence tonight. What is violence? How do we precieve violence? It's an interesting question, especially as someone who's despises violence, but eagerly plays paintball, and loves studying jiu-jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu was probably the hardest to reconcile with my belief in non-violence. It's been on my mind for a few weeks now, particularly after the session where I ended up with a swollen eye and severe nausea from being dazed and choked. It was a pretty direct example of the point of jiu-jitsu, which has been developed over thousands of years as a brutally effective way to inflict pain, disable, and kill people — and only people.

So how the heck can I study it as a pacifist, being conscious of what it is? What does pacifism actually mean to me? Does it mean I'm not supposed to hit people, or does it mean I'm not supposed to hurt people? When is pain a sensation, and when is it violence?

I used to think that physical pain was the same as violence, but I couldn't find the violence in sore muscles after a good work out. I also knew that moving to a foreign country and getting to know a bunch of new people would be a somewhat painful experience … but it wasn't a bad one, and it certainly wasn't violent. More directly, if someone else inflicts pain upon me, do I necessarily feel it's a violent act?

Certainly not. When I get shot in the head with a paintball, or when a sparring partner throws me on the mat, it can be painful, but I rarely feel offended or personally violated; I think it only becomes violence if my boundaries of acceptance are broken without my permission. I know when I walk into the dojo that I'm going to go home with bruises and sore joints, but I don't feel like it's pushing too far, and I know I'll be able to stop the process if I become too uncomfortable. It's a voluntary sport between willing contestants. Within the context of the dojo, I think Jiu-jitsu is safe and enjoyable, and that's the only place and way I feel good practicing it.

So why didn't I take up Aikido, or Tai Chi, or another less painful and offensively destructive martial art? I'm not going to be getting into any bar brawls, nor do I have any mortal enemies, so what's the point of studying a martial art with such violent design?

On one hand, it's about making choices and demonstrating what I actually believe in. Choosing to avoid a fight when I know I can't fight is a much, much different choice than avoiding a fight when I know I could end it decisively in my favor. When I have the option, it becomes a personal test of what I believe in — my maturity, my desires, and how I want to live my life. It also serves a very potent message about non-violent resolution.

On the other hand, it's about developing ideas to their fullest. If I want to learn about hand to hand combat, then I should learn an effective and comprehensive system. There's no point in misleading myself, or becoming good at something not suited for what I want. Jiu-jitsu is undoubtedly one of the best offensive and defensive martial arts, so it serves my purposes well.

I guess it all boils down to the idea that even though Jiu-jitsu is of violent design, it can be used non-violently, and because of it's violent design it can be used as a powerful message of non-violence. Fascinating stuff, for me at least.

I'm really interested in hearing what other people think — send some email to


2 Responses to “Reconciling Recreational Violence”

  1. hamza Says:

    It is great that you are able to channel your violence in a “controlled-environment.” With Strategic Airsoft Command, we are able to provide an outlet for teens that would otherwise have airsoft/paintball outings in their backyards. It’s also a great mechanism for corporate team building.

  2. Len McGrane Says:

    Yes, I think you have got something here. Violence under control is a statement against violence. Actually, thinking a little further on this line, since i am interested in team building for business … corporate team building programs could build into themselves some training so that team members learn the value (spiritual and emotional) of knowing how to smash a team member but refraining from doing it.

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