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Martial Arts and Animal Liberation
An application of martial arts philosophy to fighting oppressors.
I think that there is a lot to be said in terms of how martial arts philosophy applies to life in general, and in regards to the animal rights movement it is especially pertinent and beneficial.
Many martial arts, such as Okinawan Karate and Capoeira, were developed and practiced so that oppressed people would have a means of defending themselves in lieu of access to arms.
Others, such as Tanglang Quan and Aikido, were designed with the explicit intention of giving a smaller or otherwise physically disadvantaged combatant an advantage over larger and stronger adversaries, and even greater numbers of adversaries.
The animal rights movement is currently in a position somewhat similar to both: there are no vast animal rights armies or police forces that can enforce compassion for animals with overwhelming artillery, and the movement itself represents a minuscule opponent going up against a much greater enemy, which is of course the status quo of mass apathy, prejudice, and abuse toward animals.
Lacking both firepower and numbers, the ostensible bleakness of our situation may make our ends seem impossible, or at least horribly distant. But this is only the case if we charge into our problems head-on; with the strategic mind of a good martial artist, we can find and utilize opportunities to give us an advantage, no matter how outnumbered we may be.
Since each joint is a lever, and since each martial art requires movement of the joints, leverage is a physical concept ubiquitous in the principles of all martial arts. However, one martial art that comes to mind that I have substantial experience in and exploits the concept of leverage extensively is Hapkido, a Korean martial art that is renowned for its hellishly painful joint manipulation techniques (believe me, I know).
The Ancient Greek scientist Archimedes famously said, "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." While he may have been disappointed to find out that attempting such a thing would quickly see him killed in the vacuum of space, this does serve well to explain the magnitude to which even small forces can have a great effect, provided that they find the right leverage with which to express their potential.
Getting to an advantageous point of leverage can be a challenge in itself, but it often proves to be a more worthwhile effort than colliding force with force, especially when you simply don't have the mass to overpower what you're colliding with.
Hapkido means "the way of coordinating energy", which can be done by intercepting the energy of an opponent's attack and then redirecting that momentum in a way that is disadvantageous for them, or by initiating an attack that manipulates their body into a position where you can exert an extraordinary degree of stress on their joints with only the slightest of effort.
Clearly, if we can extrapolate these tactics from Hapkido and apply them to animal rights, we can then bolster the effectiveness of our efforts considerably.
One very effective avenue for animal rights, that I think could be utilized much more, is lobbying. There are some instances in which something as simple as being friendly to a singular, tie-breaking legislator can determine decades worth of large-scale legal ramifications for animal rights.
This is a very strong example of both utilizing leverage to supersede a problem greater than yourself, as well as redirecting the momentum of a powerful force to gain an advantage.
Another way in which we can utilize martial arts concepts, is the theory of meeting hard attacks with soft counters, and hitting soft spots (pressure points) with hard counterattacks, which is a strategy employed extensively in T'ai Chi Ch'uan. In martial arts, this could mean lightly parrying a straight punch, then using one's spare hand to punch into the armpit that one's opponent left exposed while extending out the straight punch.
When we apply this to animal rights, we may find that the difficulty lies in finding an adequately analogous situation, as there are no literal armpits to punch without the likelihood of subsequent incarceration.
In order to identify an appropriate analogy, we must first be willing to receive a hard attack from our opponents, such as a scathing criticism in a debate. This hard attack can then be made to look ridiculous by receiving it with a calm and intelligible response, and when their arguments inevitably reach a contradiction (i.e. humans deserve rights vs animals do not, minus any sort of logical justification for this [as of course there is none]), we can prey upon that weak spot with a scathing criticism of our own.
There are a few different routes we could take with this one. Leopard Kung Fu deals with this by leaping from one attacker to the next to focus on one opponent at a time, while Choy Li Fut uses multidirectional strikes that hit various attackers simultaneously. If done well, both methods are valid, effective, and certainly applicable to animal rights.
There are some who take a focused approach to animal rights, dedicating themselves to a singular subset of the issue although they may attribute equal or even greater importance to other issues as well. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who choose to tackle as many animal rights and in fact social justice issues as they possibly can.
Both approaches have their pros and cons, and both types of people are certainly necessary in our movement. We need those who are willing to labor over a hyper-specific issue to see progress in the details, and those people need colleagues who can maintain a full view of the big picture to keep our varying purposes unified.
But for most people a middle ground can be met, where we keep our minds open to opportunities to do good whenever we can, while still staying mostly focused on a specific path.
When I have asked my martial arts instructor about strategies for fighting multiple opponents, he gave me the following advice (paraphrased): "It's usually best to go for the toughest guy first, because then you can take out the biggest threat while you're still fresh, and conserve your endurance for the less-dangerous opponents."
This typically makes sense, and it does help in animal rights to see even a minor victory in a big battle, since a minor victory can have such a widespread impact for the welfare of animals. After we hit the big targets, working out the details becomes easier, since the core of the beast has been vanquished and the opposition's morale suffers.
Although there was one exception to this strategy that he recommended (this time, not paraphrasing): "Sometimes it helps to beat the crap out of the weakest guy first, because then you can use him as a body shield against all the other guys."
This is totally valid as well. For example, killing animals for fur is becoming more widely accepted as passé these days, you really have to be a jerk to go out of your way and waste money on making sure that your clothing suffered a horrible death. Although the fur trade is alive, well, and prosperous, in terms of mass public perception it is "the weak guy" in the multiple-attacker war against animals.
If we can beat the crap out of that issue until hatred for the fur trade is ubiquitous, then when people try to go back and justify similar abuse i.e. leather, then we can refer them to their opposition to fur (metaphorically using a "body shield" out of the "guy we just beat the crap out of") and point out the contradiction.
Again, it's nice that there are many people in the animal rights movement, and many different types of people as well. So where the martial arts analogy fails (which is the fact that we aren't just one individual combatant) is actually a great thing, since it allows for the division of labor and the employment of multiple effective strategies at once.
When one embarks on the journey of fighting for the rights of animals, it's wise to use some outside-the-box thinking so that the problems we face never feel insurmountable, just sometimes challenging to hit the right pressure points. As I've demonstrated, martial arts have a lot to teach us here, and even if you yourself do not practice a combative discipline, you can still borrow the same concepts to amplify your effectiveness as an animal rights proponent.
Martial arts teach us to embrace multiple strategies to defeat opponents. Animal rights activists can do the exact same.
An application of martial arts philosophy to fighting oppressors.
The Golden Rule provides a constructive, objective basis for moral behavior.