• Has anyone else every heard this maxim in any form?

I was taught by an experienced combatant that:

"Killing is the lowest level of skill. The ability to incapacitate without killing is a higher level. But the highest level is to subdue the opponent without harming them."

This could even be applied to dueling with weapons, whereby a non-fatal strike can be used to incapacitate, but the highest degree of skill is simply disarming the opponent.

Note also that "come along quietly" is the primary objective of bouncers, for a variety of reasons, which is why they tend to be bigger and stronger than most. Even where the troublemaker is a skilled combatant, it typically only results in additional bouncers joining to mob the attacker, keeping them from being able to do anything, and removing them from the premises.

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    Master Kan: "Avoid, rather than check. Check, rather than hurt. Hurt, rather than maim. Maim, rather than kill. For all life is precious, nor can any be replaced." -- "Kung Fu", the original series. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 1:54
  • @SteveWeigand Exactly. (It's so well understood it appears in the show Bruce Lee set up:) Gracie "Rules of Engagement" I've seen are also an expression of this, essentially "Submit without escalating", they just avoid the part about how jujitsu can be used to disable or kill. The Kung Fu quote is also consistent with Buddhism, and is the main reason the primary weapon of Shaolin monks is staff.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 2:11
  • It's a nice thought anyway. But in practice, most martial artists are deluded in this regard. It is possible to do, but only with good training. I'll tell you just about all kung-fu doesn't apply. Nor karate. Nor classical jujitsu. Etc. Those styles don't train like MMA, Judo, BJJ, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, etc. trains. That's needed in order to have a core skill that can put you in a position to do whatever you want to your opponent while not getting hurt yourself. You get to decide, and if it means not hurting him, that's your decision. But most martial artists don't have that privilege. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 2:27
  • @SteveWeigand It really depends on the school I think, in terms of training. But the impetus for Judo was to be a gentle art, and it can certainly be applied gently in the real world, as can all forms of grappling. I think the point of jujitsu, aikido and chin-na is that, if the skill differential is sufficient, upon neutralizing an enemy's attack, the superior practitioner can control the opponent's body with wristlocks and other techniques, as opportunity arises. (All of which are also breaks or dislocations re: incapacitate.) But that's how "come along quietly" was explained to me.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 2:41
  • @SteveWeigand Another observation is that the popularity of arts like "kung fu" and karate has led to quality control issues in terms of teaching, where there can be great variance, and disconnection from the traditional methods. Additionally, not everyone is training for the sport of MMA, but for their sport fighting competitions or exhibitions. But self defense is a separate domain, and there it's like Shioda says, or "Gracie Rules" (i.e. no rules, no gloves, no water breaks, no time limit, with victory only by submission or KO.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 2:56

2 Answers 2


Demian Maia, Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion and one of the best exponents of BJJ in MMA, said this after defeating perennial title challenger Chael Sonnen with a lateral drop to triangle choke:

“I want to show jiu-jitsu to the world,” Maia said to Joe Rogan as cornerman Wanderlei Silva implored the crowd to cheer, “and show to the people that you can win the fight without hurting your opponent.”

Emphasis mine.

All the so-called "gentle" arts — BJJ, judo, taiji, aikido, aikijujutsu — attempt to optimize for this approach to winning. Strength and violence are always part of fighting, but some arts emphasize surviving and dominating through subtle technique (almost always grappling) that inflicts minimal harm.

  • Dave, thank you. I don't think BJJ practitioners always get the deserved praise for this aspect of that art, and how they used this principle to launch modern MMA. (Speaking personally, I much prefer submission victories in MMA to brutality and knockouts, as gratifying as it can be to see any martial technique executed well, including strikes. But it's a kind of conflicted appreciation in the latter case.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 1:57

Let’s look at the four types of violent conflict, and their prime objectives:

  1. Self defence: Keep yourself or someone else alive
  2. Warfare: Make sure your team destroys the other sides will to continue the conflict
  3. Hunting. Kill for sport or to feed.
  4. Domination. Be seen, by as many as possible to achieve physical superiority to the other

Why we kill, if to defend ourselves from bodily harm.........

  • Thanks for 1. (One of the reasons I like tai chi is the primary goal is maintaining your own health, even in combat, and this is even said to confer some advantage. It typically results in tiring an opponent while waiting for openings that can be exploited definitively, if not exploiting openings created by attacks at the outset.) Maintaining your health, or the health of others, can require disabling or even killing an opponent, but it always best to apply the least amount of force necessary to achieve the goal.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 10, 2020 at 0:40

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