What is Self Defense in the Martial Arts?



Mindset. Grabbing. Punching. Distance. Kicking. Screaming. Biting. Comfort. Discomfort. Scratching. Sweeping. Locking. Pinning. Breaking. Popping. Tearing. Gauging. Lacerating.

There are so many words used to describe the concept of Self Defense. Over the years I've trained many styles, from Muay Thai, Judo, American Combat Karate, Krav Maga, to Hwa Rang Do. If you listen to the great teachers in these disciplines, specifically those who have had to employ their training in real world situations (not drunken brawls or provoked street fighting, but honest unpredictable self defense situations), you'll find a common thread: Distaste.

No one who encounters true Self Defense situations is encouraged at the thought of reliving, let alone repeating such an experience. It's not like the movies, or cage fighting, or any other form of competition and sparring. It's a window into the ugliest and most brutal lack of human decency you will hopefully never experience in your life.

I've had the misfortune twice. Both times I was successful in dispatching my would be assailant and both times I wished I had not been where I was on those two nights.

Get Comfortable where you are uncomfortable. If you learn nothing else from a seminar, seasoned veteran, or instructor, it should be this simple phrase. It is simultaneously both a seemingly obvious idea, but when when someone, without warning, begins to violate your boundaries, oftentimes the most damaging effects are those we feel in our minds. Broken bones will heal, even lifetime injuries sustained can be coped with, but more often than not, it is the mental aspect of trauma that we're left with when no other pressing thoughts assail. It is like the cracks in pottery, once made many of us simply discard the whole piece and replace. Unfortunately, we can't do that with our minds. We have to live with the "cracks" that form from these horrible experiences. An advantage of Aikido being developed in Japan, is a cultural oddity that works beautifully here.

Kintsugi. This is the age old art of filling cracks in pottery with gold in Japan. Why? Because unlike many of us in the West, the culture of Japan developed a notion of not only keeping what is value, but in fact, increasing the value of something once it is seemingly broken or breaking. A beautiful sentiment for those of us who feel "cracked" from the self defense experience.


So what is the best martial art for self defense? What is the best method of learning self defense? Who has been the best instructor for self defense?

All of these questions become meaningless when we realize that no one is ever 100% prepared at all times for a self defense situation because the heightened levels of adrenaline and stress would give us a heart attack if kept up at all times (not to mention, it's hard to defend yourself when you're sleeping).

So what do I tell my students? Train. Build stronger connections between certain actions in your muscles and your brain that will allow you to manage a conflict. More importantly though, is to train your mind. Learn to become comfortable where you are uncomfortable so that if you are both unlucky enough to be in this deplorable situation and lucky enough to survive it, you will carry with you the inner strength that keeps these "cracks" from spreading.

Many people then ask: What is the point of training in the martial arts then, if these moves can't protect us from the "cracks". That is an excellent question for the next post.

-Sensei

P.S. If you or someone you know has been in this situation, even if they successfully defended themselves, please be aware enough to notice if they are suffering. Many do not show obvious signs through rage and anger; many suffer from within.

P.P.S. If you don't want to wait for the next post to answer the last question. Stop by the dojo for an answer and I will be happy to listen and discuss.

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