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Monday, September 23, 2013

Self Defense: Are we teaching False Confidence?


According to some of my readers, this subject is a pretty sore one. Most of the conversations that I have had are from those who took a basic course in Self-Defense at a local Y or a community center and found that the drills and techniques that were taught were useless when they were actually put to use.  (No offense to those who teach at the local Y or a community center... I help out with my organization and we teach out of a community center.)  The common story goes like this.

Ms. "A" notices that there have been an alarming increase in violence targeting young women and decides to take a self-defense course to familiarize herself with techniques that might help save her life.  The first few classes begin with promising lectures along with warm-up excersizes and simple scenarios.  As the classes progress, Ms. "A" has learned some basic punches, basic kicks, and some basic releases from arm grabs and attempted choke holds.  On top of that, she was introduced to the use of pepperspray and equipped herself with a "rape" whistle just in case she was being chased by an assailant.  Nearing the end of her self-defense program, she was introduced to stress management letures and more advanced scenarios, such as, actually facing against an assailant, which was her instructor. These advanced scenarios taught techniques such as eye gauging, groin strike, etc. and took many hours of drilling.  Completion of the course required demonstration of all the techniques learned, again being able to demonstrate against the instructor.  Ms. "A" finished the course with flying colors but felt that some lacked.  A few days later, she asked her boyfriend to act as an assailant and attack her.  Her boyfriend quickly overpowered her and this confirmed her lacking feeling.

If this story seems pretty similar, then we do have a problem.  Even for those training in the arts for many years, if you are not able to effectively use what you have learned then we haven't developed the ability to apply our training, which can already be contributing to a false sense of confidence.

How do we overcome this?  It is easy to say... "I know I can apply what I have learned..." but can you truly?  Unless tested, like those I have spoken to you here through either Google + or through my blog, through the School of Hard Knocks or School Yard/Neighborhood Justice, how do you really know that you can apply your techniques outside of the dojo?  Realistically, most common practitioners don't.

That's not a bad thing.  Depending on your system, such as mine... Okinawan Goju Ryu... Chojun Miyagi's philosophy was "Karate ni Sente Nashi" or in plain english... "There is no first attack in Karate." is taught until your ears bleed.  The reason why we focus on Kata and on bunkai is due to this original philosophy. The study of bunkai is what allows Goju Karateka to develop the ability to effectively apply in a real life scenario.  I believe this to be true in ANY Japanese Martial Combat system.  A simple system without the backing of repetition and understanding of muscle memory and execution is not going to be effective.  A self-defense cirriculum that is open to any Joe or Sue off the street may be more detrimental to them, especially if the courses are not backed up or supported with supplemental training of some sort.  Even in the Military or Law Enforcement, while they are taught basic hand to hand and self-defense while they are in Basic Training, there are other supplemental training that is available to them as they progress in their career.  For example... MCMAP for the Marines, which stands for the Marine Corp. Martial Arts Program and individual training incentives for Law Enforcement (to include Judo, MMA, Karate, etc. to become an instructor within the Law Enforcement agency).  For those... it is a matter of life or death... not some practice dummy.

This issue is something that hits the core of some practitioners.  Most of us don't go looking for a fight.  Some of us had to learn in order to survive. Some of us were encouraged to test our ability... but is that the correct way to teach especially if we are trying to develop someone's ability to defend themselves?  What is the correct way?  IMHO it is all relative to the person willing to learn.  It is a combination of more smarts than actual physical ability... especially in this day and age.  To me the wisdom of Miyagi Chojun rings true when I look at self defense... "Karate ni sente nashi..." Through this concept you learn restraint, control in difficult situations, and one can hold their head high knowing that in any situation they made the correct decision.

Now you might wonder how I got all those concepts from just that one simple phrase.  Simply, the phrase's meaning is deeper than one thing.  If I were to explain the literal meaning, then most believe that Karate to be a passive combat system, not believeing in offense and concentrating in defense.  However, traditional practitioners understand that this is not the case.  For most traditional practitioners... Defense is Offense, timing is everything, and this give you the advantage in most cases.

1.  Learning Restraint

From a Goju Ryu perspective, understanding that all Kata begin with blocking, symbolizes the fact that our forefathers understood that our ryuha focused on the ability to react against aggressive attackers, such as the oppressive Samurai from mainland Japan. Learning and honing ones skill to wait for the aggressor to make the first attack, a Karateka can read their oppenent and take advantage of their movement in mid-strike to move in to finish their opponent.  Some practitioners equate this to hesitation but I look to it as a strategic strike.

2.  Control in Difficult Situations, generally speaking...

As a Karateka, we are responsible for our actions at all times.  Sometimes we forget that.  Given time, we may be forced into a situation where we must act regardless if it is negative or positive.  Learning restraint is a key factor in learning to control ourselves in certain situations.  Regardless which avenue we choose, the point is that we did not let our emotions control our actions and that by controlling ourselves we did not make an escalating situation any worse.

3.  Knowing That You Made The Correct Decision

Learning restraint and not letting emotions control your actions are two key aspects of knowing that you handled yourself in the tradtion of a true Karateka.  A true Karateka does not have to falter to ego or has to prove that he or she is stronger than your opponent.  The main point is that in any given situation you are able to act with a good head on your shoulders and resolve issues than cause them.  You may use your fist, you may not... I don't want to sound cliche but if you do use your fists then I hope its the last option available.

I believe that these three points above need to be understood by a practitioner before teaching or learning self-defense. Self-Defense is not just a series of moves and techniques but a whole different frame of mind.  Powerful emotions may fluctuate, such as Fear or Anger, which can affect the practitioner's motives and disrupts the "calm mind / no mind" mushin of a true practitioner.  In a sense, we can not teach confidence no matter how hard we try.  The practitioner must acheive that on their own.  Like the story of Ms. A... through her own experiences she must find her own way of training to make sure that it is effective and useful to her. 

Confidence is only gained through a succession of defeats and successes.  Without defeat one cannot appreciate success, yet alone build on each success that one has acheived.

For those ups and downs... in training!

Kay