At a very fundamental level, Martial Arts teach the mitigation of conflict. Whether we're teaching the student to remain calm in an escalating environment, or we're teaching them to defend themselves from a fight in progress, the idea is to reach a safe resolution.

However, ultimately, the student must learn that it was their choices that led them to the situation; it's easy to say, "Hey, that's not what we're about," but ultimately this is only teaching 10% of conflict resolution. How then can an instructor demonstrate effectively the chain of causality that leads to conflict as a means of deterring violence?

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    It is interesting. You would need to be a little careful, because ALL conflicts could be traced back to deciding to leave the house. I would think that a lot of scenario roleplaying would be useful, such as "You go to a bar with friends, and accidentally spill a belligerent drunk's beer." Obviously the guy is going to want to make an issue of it, how do you deflect that?
    – JohnP
    Oct 16, 2013 at 16:24
  • False premise; it relies on the presupposition that leaving the house means being attacked (Barring Albanian Gjakmarrja under Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit). However, it could be argued that events outside an individuals control (Aggressor is laid off from their job) could put them in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the case of the belligerent, we can argue, though, that avoiding street bars (as opposed to the bar in a hotel or restaurant in which the decorum differs) decreases the likelihood of belligerents, and attention to ones surroundings would prevent spilling beer.
    – stslavik
    Oct 17, 2013 at 15:42
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    True, but that presupposes that you never go anywhere where anyone might be having a bad day, ready to take offense at anything, etc. Which, could be traced back to "If you didn't leave the house to get on the subway where you bumped a guy that got pissed off". It is definitely reductio ad absurdum, but that's why I detailed it as you'd have to situation roleplay it. Such as...you and a friend go out for a pint to see the local team play on telly. You turn and accidentally bump a guy, spilling his beer, and he gets all worked up. Defuse it. Drunks will happen even in "high class" places.
    – JohnP
    Oct 17, 2013 at 16:31
  • You're right, it is reductio ad absurdum. Again, however, even in this, you illustrate my premise: your inattention caused you to bump the guy's beer, not your leaving the house. Statistically, the likelihood of violence is higher in the corner pub in a blue collar neighborhood than in a restaurant bar in an affluent neighborhood. If you're a sloppy person, you've created the situation. If you have a moment of care and attention, recognizing the causality of your actions, you avoid the trigger. A person getting into their car is not the trigger for an accident, but focusing on a text may be.
    – stslavik
    Oct 23, 2013 at 14:04
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    It is an impossibility to prevent every occurrence that could possibly upset someone to the point of provocation. To believe otherwise is just putting your head in the sand.
    – JohnP
    Oct 24, 2013 at 16:32

4 Answers 4


I'm in the "Why bother?" camp.

I think such a conversation is largely pointless. It's got that feel of the old esoteric style of martial arts where awareness allows one to predict how the universe unfolds, and yes, there are many things you can predict, but I don't think its something you are going to teach to people, and I'm not entirely sure its going to be any good.

I think the conversation you want to have, If you want to have such conversations revolves around choice, responsibility, motivation, awareness and respect.

  • You always have choices about how to react to a situation
  • You are responsible for the choices you make
  • Understand the motivation behind your choices

Then maybe you can talk about how ego as a motivation can lead us astray, emotional stress, blah blah.

Talk about your own experiences and the choices you make and how your training has helped make better choices etc, blah blah

ie, the big picture is constructed from the smaller actions we take as we live life. You can't really tell people how to live their lives, but you can point out the process, how their attitudes and respect for people and their environment have consequence, and then let them consider for themselves what they want for themselves.


If we were sitting in a pub together and having a beer, my answer to your question would be "Why bother?".

Of course there is more to the answer than just those two words.

I understand and respect what you are trying to achieve by posing the question and trying to answer it. However I think you are trying to achieve the impossible. Your relationship to your students can be likened to that of a parent to a child. You can try and guide your child as much as possible, but they are going to make mistakes and screw up, they are going to do the things you told them not to do - just like you did yourself when you were younger.

Short of running field experiments (i.e. going to known trouble spots and experimenting with ideas and theories), you are limited to either academically studying specific incidents, or retelling stories in a fairy tale (anecdotal) kind of way. Either way, you can draw conclusions and learn valuable lessons, but the information will only be useful to some of your students some of the time. Humans are descended from the animal kingdom, not from robots, so it's in our DNA to do stupid things, make wrong decisions and make mistakes.

Breaking your question down to its very essence, I would ask its purpose. Is it to assist your students by adding another dimension to their learning, thus helping them on their journey? Or deep down is it a part of your own spiritual journey?

If it is to simply expand the students training then I would suggest that you carry on the same way as you will be doing now, some of their training cannot be taught - it must be learned.

If answering the question is for your own spiritual journey then you are going to need to try finding different methods to teach causality, but I would suggest you don't try too hard because ultimately it will be futile - and the level of futility will be directly proportional to the level of effort you put in (i.e. the harder you try the worse you will feel when a student does something you've exhaustively taught them not to do).

So, in a nutshell, TL;DR: Keep on keeping on. You've most likely already found the best way for you to teach the chain of causality and resolving conflict. Chain reactions and the mitigations for them could be blindingly obvious to you but your students are not you and they are not deterministic, so there is only a limited amount you can do for them in that respect.

  • I'm ultimately not of the mind that I can teach everyone the means to prevent their own conflicts, but rather a means to understand how their actions can put them into those situations. While chaos theory may have it that everything is continuously pushed toward a yet greater state of entropy, it would seem that still the means that bring us to chaos are far more organized in retrospect. Can then an understanding of how A indicates B teach us the means of preventing escalating chaos at least on this small scale? Why bother: Why do we bother teaching martial arts? Increasing odds. Good answer
    – stslavik
    Oct 17, 2013 at 15:27

Use science!

First and foremost, one needs to understand something before one can demonstrate it. Chances are that everything you know about conflict is wrong or misleading. So, do some research first: What is crime like in your area? What does it involve? What are the common crimes and the uncommon ones? This is all statistics basically. You should be able to get those online at various sources. For example, in the UK the police.uk site does just that. But wait, that's just crime! How about warfare? How about bullying at school? How about aggressive behaviours at work? ... Conflict takes many forms.

One thing to remember: Anecdotes are not evidence. Just because X happened once to Y does not mean you should train against X. Worst still is hearsay. Just because someone claims that HIV positive blood in needles are the new weapons in $YourHomeTown does not mean you should tailor your training to avoid needles. Anyhow, side rant over.

So, now you know what type of conflict you want to protect against, how it arises, and hopefully how to deal with it for a legal point of view. Ah yes, it might be worth talking to a lawyer about what you teach. You really do not want to give your students wrong legal advise, now do you?

That is a lot of work. Possibly well beyond the scope of a humble martial art instructor.

A stop gap is to recognise that stress/fear makes us do stupid things: we talk to the police instead of a lawyer, we panic and seem like easy prey, and so on. Martial arts will teach you to be more self-confident, to have more self control which will help. One of the best way I have seen to deal with this is randori (or light sparing however you call it) against one or two or three opponents. It adds so much chaos that it forces you to think, to react, and after a while it becomes less scary.

Maybe the answer lies in mushin, nugamae... In my little world of Aikido, we teach pins. Most of the time, I keep telling beginners to look up instead of down -- the infamous "nobody looks good with their arse in the air". When they ask why, I tell them (i) to look good (right?), (ii) in the dojo, to protect uke who cannot move from other students not paying attention, and (iii) because it enhances tori's perception of their surrounding. The latter is key. Unless you detect that you are in danger, you cannot do a thing about it. A good starting point is Marc McYoung's site.

So, my not so humble answer to your question is: train awareness.

Wow, took a while to get there... ^_~

  • I am not so happy about the end of this answer... Not quite on the mark... Hum. Oct 16, 2013 at 16:34
  • Unfortunately, I feel like you hit home on what we already teach, but think that you're telling me about the why... There's no why here: crime exists, conflict exists, therefore we train to protect ourselves from it when it touches us. The point I'm trying to teach is to show them how the choices they make land them in the situations long before it becomes evidently dangerous.
    – stslavik
    Oct 17, 2013 at 15:15
  • @stslavik: Not quiet. What I am driving at is that most people (including instructors) have no idea what conflict is, how it arises, and what it entrails. Therefore they spew and teach rubbish based on false assumptions. Oct 17, 2013 at 17:57
  • I think this is a great answer other than "to look good" part. Was that supposed to be sarcasm/humor? Oct 18, 2013 at 18:11
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    @TimothyAWiseman: Humour mostly. It's a good way to remember good posture. ^_~ Oct 19, 2013 at 17:24

Practice it the same way you practice just about anything else - by doing a controlled reinactment of it. In other words, roleplay.

This can do a couple of things - 1. It teaches your students acting, which can be a valuable skill for both offense and defense (don't let your opponent see you get frustrated or scared). 2. It provides a series of "if...then" segments that they can play with to see what happens.

It's not perfect, but when you go through a scenario, you can then ask questions about it. What could you have said differently when the other person threatened you with violence? Did you notice your body language/energy change when he did that? How could you have avoided the situation altogether? Perhaps you can also have them take a different decision choice at a certain junction to see how it would play out. This provides your students with an opportunity to learn to look at situations objectively. As an added bonus, this skill works for all interactions with people.

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