I got into my martial art because I believe in nonviolence and cooperative conflict resolution. My martial art is Aikido and it is the physical form of what I previously only new about in a theoretical form.
I studied organizational and interpersonal communications in college and in my studies I learned that research shows cooperation and win/win solutions are more productive than the competitive, winner-take-all solutions that dominate the American culture. This research on cooperative conflict resolution interested me because it conformed well to my belief in equality and nonviolence.
About a year ago I was reading a list describing a number of martial arts when I came across the description of Aikido. Aikido was described as a martial art that had no attacks and did not attempt to stop an aggressors attack, but instead the Aikidoist would blend with the aggressor. This was very strange to me at the time so I attempted to learn more about the art.
Aikido means, "the way of harmonizing with energy." In Aikido you actually work with the aggressor's energy, and you use that energy to lead the aggressor. In Aikido you don't "fight" off an attacker, but instead cooperate with your attacker and work to create harmony. An accomplished Aikidoka (a student of Aikido) can easily neutralize an aggressor's attack without causing the aggressor any harm.
When you first hear about Aikido it may sounds very Utopian. When you see an Aikido master at work for the first time you might think it is a choreographed dance--no more real than the choreographed fight scenes in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, when you actually practice it you begin to achieve not only a new understanding of the reality of the martial art but of conflict in daily life.
The founder of Aikido called his martial art a form of "moving meditation," and that is exactly what it is. If you want to be prepared to handle nasty demonstrations Aikido might help. Any martial art may give you skills in self-defense and the confidence to deal with violent situations, but I think Aikido offers a unique benefit for progressive activists.
Aikido is based on the same steadfast commitment to nonviolence that empowered activists like Gandhi and King, who regularly dealt with the type of violent situation one might encounter at any anti-fascist demonstration. It was Gandhi and King's belief in nonviolence and their quest for equality that helped them stand their ground when others may have run. I think Aikido can empower activists to deal effectively with violent situations.
Aikido teaches you to be centered and prepared for an attack from any direction. At a demonstration where violence breaks out you will most likely have to be deal with multiple attackers. Aikidoka are trained to deal quickly and effectively with more than one attacker at a time. At a demonstration it is not likely you'll be able to take on your aggressors one at a time.
Aikido does not require great strength, because you blend with the force of the aggressor. So almost anyone can do Aikido. Large bullyboys do not have an advantage if you know Aikido.
Proper Aikido uses just enough force and energy to effectively neutralize an attacker. Many martial arts are about doing as much damage to your opponent as quickly as possible. With Aikido the advantage is that you are less likely to cause your attacker unnecessary harm. I think that in most demonstration situation you are not going to want to injure or kill your aggressor, because that will potentially harm your social justice message and escalate that violent situation. Also, this means less unneeded troubles with the police and negative press.
I'm not saying Aikido is the best martial art out there for people interested in self-defense. Different martial arts are better at different things. Aikido is a modern form of Budo (warrior way) and is not just a form of self-defense, so rating it as a system for self-defense can be misleading. Those who only want a "quick and dirty" form of self-defense may be quickly turned off by Aikido's etiquette, philosophy and ki exercises.
Budo is not a means of felling the opponent by force or lethal weapons. Neither is it intended to lead the world to destruction by arms and other illegitimate means. True Budo calls for bringing the inner energy of the universe in order, protecting the peace of the world and molding, as well as preserving, everything in its right form. --Morihie Ueshiba