Understanding Self-Defense: The Tao

I have often contemplated the Tao of self defense, if one should exist, but found it difficult to justify any sort of violence in the context of the Tao. However, while reading Thomas Merton’s preface to The Way of Chuang Tzu, it occurred to me that self defense must be, what Merton calls, a “perfect action” or wu wei (sometimes translated as effortless action.) In addition to effortless, Thomas Merton also translates wu wei as spontaneous. He writes that wu wei is a “detached action,” meaning that “it is not ‘conditioned’ or ‘limited’ by our own individual needs and desires, or even by our own theories and ideas” (28). Finally, Thomas Merton adds that wu wei is free action, because it is an action that is in harmony with the universe precisely because it is detached from the individual, it is spontaneous, and effortless. As a result, wu wei is void of force and violence; it is natural.

Concerning wu wei and its application in self defense, what appeals most is that it causes an individual to act outside of preconceived philosophies concerning self-defense, outside notions of good and evil, and does not allow for a judgmental response (which is always conditioned by needs, desires, theories, and ideas.) Moreover, it is non-violent. How wu wei is put into practice is up to the practitioner (Taijiquan, Aikido, or perhaps Systema.) However, in order to adhere to the Tao, it must follow Merton’s definition of “perfect action.” To reiterate:

Wu wei is effortless, spontaneous, and detached.

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