Sunday, April 4, 2010

Teaching Aikido to Sheep

Sheep have a big problem. They don’t have the greatest knowledge of self defense. Mostly, they count on their shepherd to protect them. They gather themselves together in herds and pass their time in the pastures just eating grass. Should they wander away from the herd, they take the chance of being attacked by wolves. To see that this doesn’t happen, the shepherds have trained dogs to keep them in line. But, worse than that, the sheep can’t really trust the shepherd much either. After all, these shepherds have been known to take certain liberties with the sheep. And when the shepherd gets hungry, or when the time comes to cull the herd, he will lead the sheep to slaughter. Certainly there are some sheep that have memories of certain lambs that were led from the herd, never to return.

The life of a sheep could very well be a paranoid existence. They likely try to stay in the center of the herd where they feel safest. Should they get to the edges or try to wonder away the dogs will nip at their heels. Should they manage to wander away anyhow there are predators waiting to devour them. Even if they stay with the herd there are dangers. And they simply aren’t that well equipped to defend themselves.

Aikido is a martial art form that teaches one how to use an attacker’s momentum against him. It would, of course, be quite difficult to teach sheep to use many of the moves a human would use against another human. There is, however, a basic idea here one can get at. That is, to surprise an aggressor by making his strikes backfire. When this is done, the aggressor suddenly discovers to his dismay that the object of his aggression knows more and can defend itself better than he first thought. This discovery alone may be enough to end the aggression and make the aggressor go off sulking to lick his wounds.

While it might be useful for the lone sheep to learn how to duck out of the way of a leaping wolf and send it sprawling to the ground on its head as its gnashing jaws grabbed nothing but air, it would be better for the herd if they learned how to reason. This would, of course, be the shepherd’s greatest fear, that sheep would learn to think critically, and would afford the sheep the best chance to use assets their users and abusers didn’t know they had. The other thing they’d need to learn is to better communicate, especially if they are doing so in a way the wolves, dogs and shepherd do not understand. In this way they could plot together how to best prevent themselves from becoming dinner.

Of course, that would be the hardest part, teaching the sheep that they can reason and should communicate amongst themselves. It may, for instance, be very tough to convince the sheep that the shepherd’s intentions are not entirely honorable. After all, he protects them from wolves, does he not? He commands the dogs who keep the herd together and the wolves away. He leads them to pastures green, the silent waters by. He would never lead them to hang on hooks in high places. He would never try to fool them. He would never put his own survival above theirs. That’s just impossible.

Still, suppose the sheep learned to think and communicate amongst themselves. Suppose they could be convinced that the shepherd didn’t have their best interest at heart, but was mostly looking out for his own best interests and those of his friends, colleagues and clients. Suppose they began to look around and understood that there simply weren’t that many wolves around to be afraid of. Better yet, suppose they began to come to believe they could get by and even prosper on their own without the help of the shepherd. They would need a good plan of action. They would need a way to make it so frustrating for the shepherd that he decides to leave them alone and find opportunities elsewhere or other animals to try to oppress.

The first thing the sheep would have to learn to do is stop obeying. They are herd animals, so they would have to learn to work together to protect each other. When the shepherd tries to get them to move, a great many of them would have to lie down and refuse to go anywhere. When the dogs start barking and biting at them they would have to ignore them, as hard as that might be. If the dogs should get carried away and start brutalizing a particular lamb a little too much, they might come up with a strategy of those nearest getting up, surrounding a dog or two, butting them until they quit pestering their friend, and then laying down around the brutalized lamb for its protection. They do, after all, have superior numbers and they need to learn to use this to their advantage.

This would, of course, confuse and confound the shepherd. He would not be used to such behavior from sheep and simply wouldn’t know what to do about it. One can imagine the look of shock on the shepherd’s face as his trusted dogs are simply unable to get the sheep moving. One can imagine his facial muscles contorting as he becomes agitated and tries to whip his dogs into a frenzy to get the job done. This would only lead to more sheep disobedience, and perhaps some of the other sheep in the herd that had been cooperating with the shepherd and his dogs would see the success of those who weren’t and join in. As more and more of the sheep in the herd proceed to lie down and not simply obey the shepherd, the flustered master of the herd might even go as far as trying to pick up one of the smaller lambs himself to physically move it. This, of course, would be the perfect opportunity for the sheep to use the tactic of surrounding and butting at the shepherd like they did to the dogs earlier. If the shepherd was stubborn enough, they might even nip and bite at him until he puts the lamb down.

At this point, the shepherd might become frightened. One could imagine that he might even, in the deep of the night, make a bargain with the wolves. They could disguise themselves as sheep and sneak into the herd, and then let him know what the sheep were thinking and planning. In this way, maybe he could target some of the smartest sheep and remove them from the herd. In this way, maybe he could regain control. The sheep will have to learn to recognize this tactic. They’ll have to be able to identify the wolves. It really shouldn’t be too hard, as wolves in sheep’s clothes have a tendency to look a little ridiculous. Wolves also find it hard to act like sheep. I think it is quite likely that the sheep will be able to sniff the wolves out. Then they can either feed them false information, kind of as a joke, or they can simply use their surround and butt technique to force them out of the herd.

With the unsuccessful attempt of the shepherd to use the wolves as spies, he may be forced to give into the sheep. He may simply ask the sheep what they want. The sheep would, of course, tell him they simply want to be left alone. They could tell him that they can protect themselves from the wolves without his help. They could tell him that they can find their own way to greener pastures and cooler brooks without his leadership. They could tell him that they will no longer allow him to use them for his pleasure. They will tell him they will not be put on hooks in high places. He might as well face the fact that from now on he’ll have to settle for beef to eat and leather to wear, unless the cattle can learn from the sheep, in which case maybe it will be best for him to learn how to grow hemp and other plants for food and clothing. Having been completely foiled in his attempts, the shepherd will now turn away and look for some other source to live off of, leaving the sheep to their freedom.

Well, perhaps the title of this piece was a bit off. Perhaps people reading it thought the sheep would be practicing some deadly form a martial art and using it to crush their enemies. But sheep are just sheep. They can hardly act otherwise. Their physical build and such prevent them from being very aggressive. They would, in fact, have to work with the tools they have if they were to evolve into something more. They will likely never be anything but sheep and will always follow the will of the shepherd and his dogs, always be fearful of the wolves in the wilds. Humans are different. They would never follow masters who would lead them to their doom. They would never quake in fear that some wild creatures will be waiting to do them in if they break free from their masters. Humans are much smarter than that, right? It isn’t necessary for humans to learn the same methods of self defense that the sheep need. They are far too intelligent to ever be herded like animals.

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