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How to Survive Domestic Abuse – The Martial Arts Way

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‘Budo’ means ‘the martial way’. It was, and is, a philosophy. A way of living that is meant to teach the practitioner to prepare for death and loss in times of war and terror. It is the practice of coping strategies to improve the chances of surviving the tragedies of humanity has to offer.

This practice has been handed down for centuries and is still practised today in martial arts. Martial arts should not be confused with sports. Sports have rules and you can win. In martial arts, there is no game – it is the art of survival and living well.

The situation a victim of domestic violence experience, can have mental health effects similar to that of exposure to terror or conditions similar to that of a prisoner of war. Threats and attacks at any given time captures the victim in an environment of extreme stress 24 hours a day. Should the person survive the actual attacks and escape; the physical, mental, economical, and social toll of the violence can be crippling. Occasionally so crippling the victims end up taking their own lives.  

When lecturing about violence I have been asked, how I managed to get back on my feet after being completely broken physically and mentally. It took ten years for me to get far enough away from my attackers violence to start healing. There was no time to heal while living in the war zone.

A large part of the credit for helping me heal has to go a unique person, who stepped in in my darkest hour and stood by me to the end. However, it would not have been possible without some personal drive as well. Looking back on how I reacted, I can see I used the principles and instincts learned from martial arts as my guide. Not the physical training, but the mental part that comes from the journey of trying to live the martial way.

When an individual enters a ‘dojo’, the training place of a martial artist, that person willingly enter a safe place to explore the nature of violence. Within ‘dojo’ a person focuses on learning to deal with pain, defeat, fear, injuries, unfairness, injustice, patience, personal limits, control and the fragility of the ego. Eventually it grows on you and it becomes easier to deal with these things also outside the dojo.

Teachings on how to live the martial way

Teachings on how to live the martial way: 

  • Know the wisdom of being patient during times of inactivity.
  • Choose the course of justice as the path for your life.
  • Do not allow your heart to be controlled by the demands of desire, pleasure, or dependence.
  • Sorrow, pain, and resentment are natural qualities to be found in life. Therefore, work to cultivate an immovable spirit.
  • Hold in your heart the importance of family loyalty, and pursue the literary and martial arts with balanced determination. –  Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu

The teachings of the martial way helped me in dealing with the symptoms of the violence caused by my attacker and the authorities.

My body burned with rage because of the injustice and apathy from the authorities, that consistently ignored pleas to prevent further violence against my family. What I could do was to act out of love for my children and as just as I could. This allowed me to embrace the consequences with a clear consciousness, and the rage decreased.

It was a reflex not to feel hate for my attacker, and I never had a need for vengeance. My teachings had trained me to not let my feelings be controlled by a person attacking me (the immovable spirit) – never to give the attacker something to hold on to and attack.

Grief had a strong hold of me. But I knew beforehand this is a part of life, and that it would transform with time. Speaking about it helped very little, as few people had experiences that made it relatable to them. I knew I had to be patient. I knew I had to be patient as this would be a brief moment in my whole life, even if it took years.

The physical and mental symptoms of the violence, I saw as injuries like any other damage. Injuries that required me to be mindful of my limitations and adapt my life so I could heal. The end goal for me was never to ‘win’, as I did not exercise a sport-mindset. As a martial artist, my goal was to survive, adapt and continue grow as good a life as I could from the ashes. Again, and again if need be.

Surviving an attack before it happens by avoiding it is the ultimate self-defence. This understanding was crucial as authorities insisted on inviting my attacker to my home and I to hers, if I wanted their blessing to see my children. By refusing and avoiding such madness, I removed myself from my attackers repeated attempts to frame me for violence, carrying out actual attacks and her promise to kill me.

What you also learn from ‘dojo’ is to trust instincts and expect deceit. Openings in a defence may be a trap in disguise. This became essential in handling my attacker, as I was unfortunate to be born a male. My attacker made me painfully aware that she knew of the heavy societal and legal biases against men regarding domestic violence and their limited legal rights. She also stressed she was more than ready to exploit these flaws given the chance. I never returned my attackers violence, but if she would get just one bruise from me parrying her flurry of attacks, I would have been trapped.

The myths created about domestic violence, that men are always the violent one, made my attacker the most dangerous person on the planet for me. With little effort my attacker was able to take away rights of my family, while being immune to prosecution herself.

The best kind of self-defence towards domestic violence may not be to learn how to fight, particularly in a society that is yet to abandon the narrative that violence is gendered. Just like war and terror the current approach to domestic violence is illogical, unjust and saturated with prejudices.  

The centuries old wisdom of people who survived violence and lived to tell the tale, which is passed on as the martial way, may have a lot to teach us in overcoming hardships, such as domestic violence. Hopefully studying the principles of the martial way may one day provide new insights into how to educate resilience and inspire treatment of survivors of abuse.

Dr Brian Lassen has researched various topics in public health and has turned his focus towards domestic violence.

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