Jottings on Self Defense Part 2


Be aware that there is no best training method. Reality – based training isn’t reality. Nothing can take the place of being attacked suddenly and having your life on the line. You can’t feel in advance the emotional energy and hatred of the attacker, the sudden pulse of power. What you can do is put together a variety of training methods to allow you the greatest chance of survival and greatly limit the freeze time. A wide range of training methods, such as mental training and some statistic-based knowledge combined with lots of physical training, will get you ready and, more importantly, take the fear and questioning away.

The following are four examples of training that some folks say are needed to be a real martial artist – and a few thoughts why that may not be so:

  1. Compete: This type of training has rules that don’t exist. No eye gouging or groin strikes. A judge to keep things in line. A point system where you can lose a few times, then figure your opponent out and win. Is this reality? Otake Sensei of Katori Shinto Ryu, while not a fan of kendo matches, was even less a fan when it went from one-point wins to five points to win. “In reality, if you lose the first point, you lose your life. There are no do overs.” In competitions you train for the wrong attacks and use the wrong techniques – self defense isn’t one on one. The good point about competition as training for facing real violence is the energy you face, the banging of bodies, and the creativity that has to come out.
  1. Train with live blades: This is done with no real intent or folks would get seriously cut. This is a good method to add some awareness, but the control or lack of intent limits it. You are better off training faster with training blades.
  1. Be a bouncer: Some say this is necessary experience, but this is just learning how to fight drunks. Again, this isn’t self defense, but mano a mano. You have back up and the person you are fighting is typically drunk.
  1. Go into a bar and pick a fight: Again, this is one on one. Most likely not what you are going to deal with in a true violent situation. And while there is risk of injury, there is also risk of criminal charges. Every drill/method has its weakness. We need to put together a set of training methods to build a well-rounded martial artist. Hitting a BOB helps you gain the feel of hitting and learn some of the precision of where to strike; it also allows one to put out some power. It doesn’t fully reflect reality in that BOB never hits back – that threat doesn’t have to be dealt with. Similarly, kata doesn’t allow us to feel the impact of a strike, but it does help us learn to move. It allows us to move with calmness and effortless effort. None of the above methods is likely to help with keeping us from freezing; thus, there is a strong need for reading and meditation. Have various methods of training to balance all the aspects you might face – there is no one single way.

You get the point. There are only training methods to help you grow and solve the problems of being attacked. A fight in a schoolyard and a YMCA are different from a mugging in New York City or a roving gang in Los Angeles which is different from an addict holding you up or a “stab and grab” robbery. There are so many varied scenarios that any one method can’t cover them or reproduce them. And if you were to put yourself in such a situation to test yourself, how many varied attacks would you need to know that you have the skills for any situation? Is 100 varied attacks enough? In this approach, you likely wouldn’t live long, for, at some point, luck would fail you and you would lose. And what works today for you at 25 years of age likely won’t work when you are 65 (unless you just keep training). And if your training injures you and makes you a cripple by 50, then what is the point? You are helpless for the last 40 years of your life. Think on these things.

Decisions take time –you have to train beforehand to limit the number of decisions you need to make on the spot. Freezing happens when the brain gets information it doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand. “The unexpected” freezes the mind. If I am hit by a strike I have never seen before or was hit for no reason, my brain may ask, “why did he hit me?” This causes a freeze.

Here is the Big Picture on training for real violence:

  1. Train before you are attacked
  • Common attacks
  • Responses – drill until you can’t do it wrong
  • Move on to unexpected attacks
  • Mental training – expect the unexpected (limits freezing)
  • Understand legal issues involved with violence
  1. Learn to avoid/prevent attacks/de-escalate a situation.
  1. Develop awareness and understand types of attackers.
  1. Train what you will do if you get hit; train what you will do if you are stunned.
  1. Learn how to “flip the switch on.”
  1. Be prepared to fight without giving up. Train so that you can just do what you need to do quickly and efficiently. And remember to never, ever give up.
  1. Train your awareness to notice where safe places are. Know that you need to get to a safe place as soon as you escape an attack. Practice checking yourself for injury and calling the police/ambulance, as needed, so it is all automatic and you don’t need to remember what steps you should follow. Understand the health and mental issues you may face post-assault. Another way to look at it: there are four elements you need to understand in an attack:


The attacker(s)

The environment


Do you understand the pre-emptive strike? Have you ever trained it? While Funekoshi Sensei said, “In karate there is no first strike” – this is good reasoning when it comes to one on one, social violence. It really doesn’t hold up when things are going to get uncivilized.

Consider if someone points a gun at you – do you wait for it to go off before you move? Understand the implied threat that any situation gives and be free to act accordingly. Shoshin Ryu is very much an advocate for ‘there is no first strike’ unless it is life threatening situation. Understand the difference between losing a fight at the Community Center and one in a back alley in NYC. For me, learning to ‘Be nice till it is time to not be nice,’ better defines all such situations or ‘Listen to your attacker – they will tell you what needs to be done.’ And obviously I don’t mean listen to the what the person says per say, instead, see their intent, feel what they mean, and listen to what isn’t being said as well as what is – take in the whole picture. Then act decisively!

Environment: what is available, what can you put between you and the attacker, to where can you run? If you don’t want to hurt your attackers, know that they may also understand you don’t want to hurt them and they may keep coming at you. Control the situation. It doesn’t mean you have to damage them, but it does mean you have to control them.

Other thoughts: Amateurs fight the body; professionals fight the mind. Amateurs train until they get it right once; professionals train until they can’t get it wrong.

If you are worried about getting hurt or what the other guy might do or why this attack is happening, then you are not listening to your attacker. You are not focused on hitting what is available to you and thus being able to return to a peaceful and harmonious state.

Confidence: train wisely and intensely. Understand capability versus capacity: One is what you can do, the other is what you are willing to do. Until you have been in the situation, don’t limit what you think you can do.

Ask yourself: Am I willing to stop a 25 year old male attacker with a knife or gun? A pregnant lady with a knife or gun? A 10-year old with a knife or gun? What changed for you? Nothing really. Think on this. Understand the good that civilized rules do, but understand when they don’t apply.

Breaking the freeze: First, remember this is a normal response; not moving, hoping you won’t be seen, is part of our reptilian brain. When it happens, notice that you are frozen and tell yourself “just attack” or “move now” to break the freeze.

You can create positive habits to keep from freezing :

  • Doing unpleasant things quickly.
  • Jumping into cold water without waiting or working yourself up. For instance, turn on the cold water when you are already in the shower. Learn to be unmoved.
  • Getting up in the morning promptly. Don’t hit the snooze alarm.
  • Finishing jobs while everyone else is complaining.

Remember that focused sight has a slower response time than peripheral vision. Use soft eyes. Two guns pointed at a good gunman (whose gun is holstered): Know that a good gunman can sidestep, draw, and put three rounds in the two gunmen before they can shoot. Why? It takes time to sense information when there is motion (and they are focused). The brain must then interpret the motion. Then choose a response. Then send signal back down to the trigger finger and muscle to move to a new target and squeeze the trigger. Translate this to your self defense situations. Train this. Add a little more brain freeze by adding, “I am a spaceman and not a driver,” and let your attacker figure out what you are talking about.

If you are attacked, shoot a fast finger jab to the attacker’s eyes. If you are a bit slow, you still have a good option because the attacker’s hands are most likely open and close to their face. This presents the opportunity for you to perform a finger lock on your attacker. Train this.

Use your awareness and clues to know when an attacker’s intent is to attack. You don’t always have to wait. You wouldn’t wait for someone to shoot the bullet at you before you disarmed them, would you? Then know you need not wait for the punch. Move! Attack or run or scream – do something! Talk to Jesus or Elvis, if need be; a few twitches can be a nice touch (but you have to train this).

“What’re you looking at?” someone challengingly says to you. “Sorry was I staring? Worked a double shift last night,” you say, defusing the situation. “How’re you doing?” you add, further defusing the situation.

Charm is something people use to get what they want. Beware of when someone you don’t know is being charming. Don’t be afraid to be rude when it is called for.

Walk away or tell someone “No” or “Stop.” Or say, “Stay away; you are scaring me.”

The best self defense is always NOT to be there. Bad things happen in bad places by bad people. Don’t hang out in bad places or with bad people.

Be aware – use mirrors and windows to note who is around or if anyone is watching you too closely.

Know where exits are. Notice what utensils are around for you to use. Use them.

Hit effective targets. Know how to flip the switch to turn on your attack mode – or your “Go” button. You are capable of much – are you also willing? You don’t really know, but start training yourself to defend yourself against any attacker. Train yourself for action by deciding right now; don’t make half-assed decisions. Stay in bed or get up, but don’t keep pressing the snooze alarm. Jump in the water or don’t, but don’t sit there worrying about it being cold. Do your chores promptly. Do your work promptly. Procrastination in daily life means procrastination when you are attacked. This was the training method of many warriors of Japan in the past and is still used today.

Give yourself permission to do what needs to be done in a life-threatening situation. Let yourself act without pre-arranging it. Expect the unexpected and deal with it. Don’t limit your worldview.

Consider: A 110 pound woman thinks there is little she can do against a 200 pound man. But an 8 pound cat, if dumped in a bucket of water, can and will do much harm. Argue for your limitations and they are yours.

I give you permission to…

Defend yourself.

Be rude when necessary.

Survive, no matter what it takes.

Always keep going.

Consider how challenging it is to ask someone on a date or sing at a karaoke bar. What is there to lose? Nothing bad; someone who may not like you says “No.” So what! Let go of your ego and you will make a big step to improving your skills (you will train better as well) and you will stay out of trouble (your ego says you have to stay and fight or defend your “honor”).

Keep in mind that humans are not machines that need to be fixed. They are living organisms that can grow stronger from challenges they face. We can learn from both success and failure – if we let go of our ego and just learn. However you feel after surviving an attack is normal. There is never a standard response, only some that are more common than others. Do what you need to do to – learn and get stronger about surviving. No incident has power over you unless you make it so.

Once you think about the fact that an attack might have taken your life – you feel it and understand it – then, perhaps for the first time in your life, you will understand what is important to you. Acceptance of death will change your priorities and how you live your life.

Thank you for your time, attention, and open mind. I hope you learned something or rearranged something in your mind to help you do Goshinjutsu better. Please don’t allow your readings on violence to change your manner or personality – except perhaps to make it brighter and more fulfilling. Don’t let these jottings make you paranoid or afraid to go out into the world. For, despite a few places and a few people where trouble brews, most folks are good and many strive to have high ideals. See the good as well – it is just as important.