"Self Defence" and Martial Arts

By Richard Lee

“Defend yourself” has this nice ring to it. You just have to do just enough to avoid the bad guy trying to mug you, hurt your family or do worse things. Just enough.

It’s true that most assailants and criminals aren’t particularly well trained. They are bullies looking for an easy mark, not a pitched battle. You’re not going to run into Morihei Ueshiba, Mohammed Ali or Huo Yuanjia in the street. You’re just defending yourself, so you’re not that bad guy who picks a fight with an old man you can underestimate. We’re good people- good people aren’t predators. The point of the book On Killing by David Grossman is the fact that the vast majority of people- more than 90%, do not want to kill and will take steps to avoid doing so. 

So, for a good person, adverse to violence, it should be enough to read a coffee table magazine on, “how to escape from a headlock” or “how to win a bar fight” while waiting at the dentist, right? It can’t be that hard? We have the glossy pictures- step 1 do this, step 2 do that and do this and you will escape. It’s so clinical, and matter of fact, and you don’t have to get your hands dirty and don’t have venom in it. Most martial schools sell this concept of “self defence” to the ones we love, saying you can retain your gentle nature with a little bit of knowledge. 

Yet is this true? Or a sweet lie? A delusion? Is planning to be nice about self defence enough to survive an encounter with a real mongrel? Is it enough to “survive” and what is the consequence of falling short?

Bring that coffee table magazine to our gwoon. Show it to the teacher, and let’s see how the glossy pictures play out. Have a few short runs of it, and then… add mild resistance. The “assailant” will offer mild resistance to the self-defence practitioner. Most such situations are contrived and assumes the assailant will stand still and let you apply locks, arm bars and techniques that you haven’t practiced on him. They assume the assailant won’t pick up some terrible advice that actually puts you in a worse position during maneuver. There is a conceit there, a delusion that the predator will be as compliant as your training partner.

They won’t be.

It will be messy, it will be chaotic. It will go to ground. There will be cheap shots, surprise and sneak attacks. They will hit below the belt, and have their “friends” kick you while you are on the ground. They will have a strength and reach advantage… and they won’t let you complete the “self defence” techniques you read about.

In this maelstrom… I wouldn’t be able to drive a race car by reading about tips in a racing magazine, or even a driver’s instruction manual. Reading a coffee table about martial arts isn’t going to cut it- and neither is “self defence” going to be enough. Rather than deluding ourselves into thinking reading a few glossy pages will suffice, be ready to run away or to launch forwards with ferocity. Think how desperate a mother bear is to protect her cubs- you have to be that

bear for the ten seconds it takes to survive and hope it is enough.

The better way than hoping is to face the reality of violence: a hope that we may never have to employ it, but it may be thrust upon us against our wills, by the ne’erdowells of our society. If that is the case, invest in some insurance, and invest in yourself: train seriously with us. You don’t have to win a fight in the ring, but you have to realise that the words “self defence” are a thin veil of euphemism over the threat of real violence. 

So be ready.

You never know when you might need that to defend yourself.