Jottings on Self Defense Part 1

Jotting on Self Defense

Part 1

The following article is a series of jottings, ramblings about Goshinjutsu (self defense).

This is one aspect of Shoshin Ryu but certainly not the only. “When people fight they get angry and it is ugly” says Master Jimmy Woo, founder of Kung Fu San Soo. Undoubtedly this article will address some violent, ugly and unpleasant aspects of our world.

This does not mean we should walk around fearful or make anger a bigger part of our nature. No, rather like Yamaoku Tesshu has brushed “From day until night, strive to find calmness within motion” Let this article help you understand violence as it pertains to self defense so you can more efficiently and effectively deal with it. Then lead a good and happy/ harmonious life.

This article is just some jottings, in no particular order – I would ask you to put them in an organized form you can understand and use. Don’t feel like you have to read through this all at once but rather know it is fine to read a few paragraphs and digest them before you move on. I don’t want to paint a full picture for you but rather have you paint this one yourself, one that fits you. Take the good and set aside the bad parts of the article – take what is useful or helpful and let the others go. Mostly allow yourself to grow. Let go of any prejudices or preformed ideas you have and read, think. Hopefully these notes are helpful.

It has been said that ‘Martial Artists are fighters who teach fighters how to fight other fighters’. This struck me as rather true and when you think about it most often is. While Shoshin Ryu is different, most US karate/taekwondo schools are competition based and have people squaring off against one another. BJJ uses pins and chokes but still has people squaring off one on one. MAA and boxing are the same – one against one. They tend not be good when someone grabs them or attacks them when they are unaware or commits violence without rules, judges or someone to “referee”.

And yet if we think of self defense in a broad sense, some sociologists break violence into social vs. asocial violence. That is social violence being things like the bar fight – two young guys full of testosterone and a mind altering substance (alcohol/drugs) who are competing for some young woman’s attention or for male dominance. It is about saving face or reputation, respect and status. It is no different than two bulls or two bears during their ritual fight for dominance. It isn’t about hurting the other but gaining dominance. Chest pumped up, perhaps standing on toes, shoulders up – all things that make it less likely to hurt the opponent. Simply put this isn’t self-defense – this is fighting. For if two people fight – both are breaking the law! Fighting is against the law. So the idea that ‘he threw the first punch’ doesn’t matter. You could have walked away – you should have walked away and you can walk away. Perhaps look down, say you are sorry – whatever. So knowing how to ‘fight’ isn’t really needed. In self-defense it is rare to square off with any one one person. Walk away with body intact. Lower ranking practitioners might have a bit of a bruised ego but they will get over it and see they did what is right.

So what about Asocial violence? This can be a mugging, a predator who is looking for money, valuables, rape, murder or just the joy of hurting another human being. To these folks you are a target and they pick targets based on their likelihood to accomplish their goal. You can’t talk your way out of it – except by making them think it isn’t worth the trouble or giving them your valuables if that is what they want (and they don’t take your weakness for a reason to give you for more). They are more likely to have a gun or knife and take command via fear or actual blitz attack when you aren’t looking. Again the attacker isn’t looking for a fair fight – they want to win. This group can be grouped into two main groups – resource predator (a drug addict looking for money) or process predator (serial rapist or murderer – they like the process of what they do). Rory Miller in his book on violence and self-defense does a nice job breaking down these two groups. [Rory Miller practices a classical Japanese Ryu (Sosuishi) and is a prison guard.]

While no one person understands all of mathematics or science or medicine – it shouldn’t be surprising that no one person knows all about violence or self-defense. In part because there are so many different kinds of violence and so many different ways folks can respond to it. Consider the police officer – he looks at the world much differently than a normal citizen. He has to deal with an intoxicated person or criminal, he can’t just walk away. The rules that bind him are much different than those that are applied to a citizen. He has lots of rules about what he can and can’t do. A soldier also deals with violence – shoot first and ask questions later. It is about killing the enemy. Thus the thoughts each have don’t work well for others. The cops “Stop or I’ll shoot” just gets him killed when the person is truly violent. SWAT teams in the US go into a hostage situation with idea not to shoot the hostages. SAS (British) go in to shoot the criminals – if a hostage gets shot well it is too bad but no criminal is getting away. The violence a bouncer deals with is very different from all the above – mostly altered men who are engaging in social violence. For example, the bouncer’s experience isn’t helpful in dealing with asocial violence.

Each state has it’s own set of laws and they change. Some states say you have ‘duty to retreat’ while other have ‘castle law’. Know what the rules are in your state. It shouldn’t matter once you are attacked but can influence you in your planning for various altercations and situations. So let’s take a look at few things that you should think about in advance so that you can plan for self defense.

Resolve safely: if you think you MIGHT win a wrestling match, but you know you will win if you use your cane – use the cane. You aren’t the police. That said you do have to solve it with the minimum amount of force it takes to win. But you have to win. To lose can be forfeiting your life. To the law you will want to show: intent, means, opportunity:

Intent: can you clearly explain how you knew the person wanted to hurt or kill you or a third person. They yell “I am going to kill you” or “he had baggy clothes and his shirt hanging free, unbuttoned almost to the neck and I saw a bulge on his right side”. This demonstrates that you had reason to fear the attacker.

Means: if he said he was going to shoot you but didn’t have a gun, it doesn’t count. He has to have the means to fulfill his threats. He said he was going to kill you and he had a weapon.

Opportunity: they have to be able to have a chance to do what they say. If they say they are going to stab you but there is a 100 foot gully between you – you can’t shoot the person.

This is all pretty simple stuff –once the incident is over it is helpful if you can articulate why you did what you did. Practice articulating what happened in some made up scenarios. Show the attacker had intent, means and opportunity to harm you. It is obvious to you, but since police weren’t there they don’t know. Explain what you saw, heard, smelled and felt. It is ok to say you were scared. That said, when you get attacked, don’t think about these things at that point, just ‘solve the problem’. Thinking isn’t a good thing when you are mugged, react and think about what to say later. However, if you get ambushed train so you see that your reaction is fast and simple. A kali practitioner might train to ‘defang the snake’, another might train to ‘do damage’ and another might train to ‘take center’. They don’t think about individual techniques (it is important that you learn them but then put them into your big picture strategy) but rather have your strategy planned and let your subconscious and training solve the problem for you. Read about Operant Conditioning or Behavior Modification for more insight on this.

The closer the attack is to your experience/ training the faster you will respond. Thus BJJ practitioner or karateka who has never trained for being struck 4 times from behind and kicked as they hit the ground will be more likely to ‘freeze’ or react more slowly. This is one reason why judo in the 1940’s, karate in the 50’s and BJJ in the 90’s did so well – it was unexpected. Thus train for everything – a strong opponent or weak, clean or dirty, angry or quietly confident, full of energy – so that no technique or situation comes as an unexpected one. So make sure part of your training is to expect the unexpected.

Similarly, doing something out of the expected can cause the attacker to pause, think, be slower in his response. Tell a joke, blow a kiss, puke or speak in a foreign language are options. You want your attacker to think… ‘This isn’t how I planned this to go, now what?’. You must expect the unexpected and be willing to operate without knowing all the information- and that is okay. It is much like the emergency room where you are sitting there one minute taking a pea out of a 2 year old’s nose and treating a gunshot wound the next. In trauma you often must make life or death decisions without really knowing all the information. While an internist (they are very smart and great at figuring things out over time) might think an x-ray is needed to diagnosis a tension pneumothorax (collapsed lung) that will soon cause death – the emergency room doctor listens to the lung sounds and makes a decision to put in a chest tube – and saves the patient’s life. Each doctor is good at what they are trained to do but they are trained to do different things. Trauma often does not give time to get an x-ray or get labs back. Do some people get a chest tube who don’t need it? Sure but more people are alive. The converse is that no one got a chest tube who didn’t need it (internist way) then perhaps 80% of the people would have died. Self defense is like this. You won’t always be right but you will always do the right thing. Think on this.

Also if you have expectations about how it is going to happen then you are not open to anything then you will likely be shocked, slow to react as you try to figure things out. So if overwhelmed – attack. Waiting or trying to block a flurry or barrage of attacks rarely goes well. Even if you block 95% that still means 5% is getting thru and hurting you. See the big picture as you train and develop your heiho (strategy).



Social Violence:

Status seeking – staring, ‘who you looking at?’, ‘your momma wears army boots’, chest bump, finger pointing, right roundhouse punch (even left hand people most often use this first). “What are you looking at?” you might respond with ‘Just zoning out, worked a double shift yesterday. How you doing?’ This type of answer gives little to push against and being a bit bored or thoughtful gives the sense you aren’t threatened. Calmness is powerful, nervousness a sign of weakness. So practice. Perhaps you can see why meditation can be very helpful to your self-defense. Another answer is to say “Oh, sorry” and walk away. Also note that if you attack before you go through the ritual then the attacker will likely freeze. But know too that he might have figured this out as well and is planning the same. So expect the unexpected always. [first attacked is always recommended but I want to drive home the point about taking uke’s mind]. Keep in mind this group, for the most part, wants witnesses – to see how dominant they are.

Group/gang mentality – this is still about status. The group via one or more individuals seeks to strengthen it’s reputation by beating up on outsiders. No pleading or begging will work here. The victim is an outsider, subhuman, worthless. You see this in how solders talk about their enemy: gook in Vietnam – make the opponent less than human to make them easy to hurt/kill. Central Park Wilding. Gangs. Mobs. Reason has no place and if you defeat one the rest will likely jump in. One can try to be strong and face them off or act crazy talking to God or run. You have to take control of the situation – be creative but know this is risky – running is very good idea if possible. Otherwise take many of them with you- get crazy. Throw all your cares and worries out the window. Know in your heart of hearts that at the end you will take them with you. That in and of itself is scary to your attackers. No one wants to fight someone who isn’t afraid to get hurt, who never gives up – because they might get hurt.

This often occurs where young men (testosterone), territory and mind altering drugs come together. A gang border or a soccer game in Europe.

Asocial Violence:

Here the attacks are planned and getting what the predator wants as easily and safely as possible is the goal. This is no contest, it is not a fight but a violent method to get what one wants. The victim is a resource – not a person – something to use and discard. Usually in remote place – no witnesses.

The attack here can come as…

  • Blitz/ ambush – striking or stabbing or shooting without warning.
  • Power threat – show of force, perhaps gun or knife
  • Sweet talking/ charming person to place away from witnesses. They use your friendliness, to get you away from witnesses or a group.

Robbery – mugging: the attackers want something of value you have. They have done this before and have a system that has worked for them. Most often in the US these folks want money for drugs. Like eating they ‘need’ it. So you can either give it to them (generally a good idea in US but can differ in other countries) or make them think it isn’t worth the effort. Can be more than one person.

Serial rape/ murder – these attackers want something you have – power over you through rape or murder. You are their resource. Rarely more than one person – since they want to live out their fantasy.



Keep in mind the weapon is about power, the power to control you. If they wanted to shoot or stab you they would have already. Realize there is no reasoning with either of these groups of social violence. Neither can be trusted. If you are in a parking lot getting into a car – make your play there – things will go better there than some dark remote area. Mortality from trauma is 17 times higher in rural areas than urban. In a parking lot the ambulance will likely be there in less than 5 minutes. In a remote area – it might be days until you are found. Be prepared well in advance of any situation so that you can know better what to expect. The predator is trying to get you to act defensively, worry about being hurt and thus not thinking clearly or understanding the real risk/ benefit ratio.

The assault often happens closer (not boxing distance), faster/ more suddenly (you didn’t see it coming), with more anger/power than you are used to. Most martial artists aren’t prepared for this. They are used to competitions or martial arts movies. Not the shock and awe approach of a blitz attack when they are least expecting it. Broken bones or nose likely won’t stop a committed attacker. And you should know it won’t stop you from fighting on. Let there be no quit in you.

Remember the attacker picks the time and place. If things don’t look good (you are being aware, balanced) then he will look for another victim. Toilet stall, between two parked cars, when you are altered (drugs, illness), perhaps slam you into a wall or hit you with a bat. Not being there is best – learn places where attacks happen and don’t be there. Awareness of your surroundings can be helpful if you are in wrong place at wrong time.

Where do muggings or robbings take place?

Places where folks have cash. Where people are altered with alcohol or drugs. Where there are no witnesses. Tourists are also a good mark since they likely won’t hang around for court, though in some places – tourists are protected better since the local economy depends on it.

Hit a heavy bag or BOB as many times as you can in 10 seconds. That is what you could be dealing with. So train with that in mind. You can’t deal with all the individual strikes so you have to have a strategy of how you will deal with this. Your strategy could be when suddenly attacked to: “RUN” or “ATTACK” or “Solve the problem” or “Defang the snake” (attack the hands) or “Do Damage”. Find your strategy, find the words that move you to action.Shoshin Ryu teaches power striking as the most basic level then adds throws, blending and joint locks.

Freezing, part of the reason for this is when you are attacked – your body will release adrenaline, which is good if you are unskilled but not all that helpful if you are skilled. Adrenaline effects on the body include: Time distortion, loss of depth perception, tunnel vision, auditory changes, raises pain tolerance, increase power, loss of fine motor control, mono-emotion or detachment (one emotion dominates). The keys here are loss of fine motor skills (your wrist technique might not be doable, putting key in a lock very difficult), tunnel vision means you have to look around more by moving your head.

Mono-emotion is good if it is anger at the other person or focus to solve the problem but not good if it is fear. If you react fast then you can beat the adrenaline dump. The dump can be lessened with training and meditation. Even simply having something to do can get you going and then your training can kick in. So learning to be calm in stressful situations in daily life will also help you be calm in a serious self-defense situation. When Sensei says always be training your mind or work on this life skill (or Kokoro Series) – you may not at first understand how it will help you. Now I hope you do. Train this well.




Get used to giving commands or being loud. If someone lay their hands on you or if someone is moving toward you and you feel threatened – sing out. “Get your hands off me your pervert!” “Stop there! You are threatening me by not stopping.” Like cockroaches, predators don’t like light of day, they don’t want others to see them.



Keep in mind that it tends to happen where people get their minds altered. Where young men congregate. Where territories are in dispute. Thus a soccer game in England has all this. Young men drinking beer and supporting their home team (territories can be imaginary).

Predatory attacks tend to be in lonely places. If someone holds a gun to your child’s head – it is about power. Do you think if you do what they say and go to a remote area they will really let you all go? Do you think predators lie? It might be difficult but get away – even if it means leaving loved ones behind, it is the correct move. Why might this be? If you leave you can get help – if you stay and get bound – they will most likely not free your child. Perhaps they will make you watch the torture or even torture you first. You have lost control of the situation. If you run you can get help. The predator might kill your child or might think it isn’t worth a murder charge and run away. See the big picture – think on this.

Then have some idea what you will do. There is no guarantee. But begging or pleading won’t help with a predator – they like the power they have over you. There is a time to talk and a time to act. Know the difference. Predators fish for victims in crowded places and may see who is willing to be broken from the crowd. Places where alcohol or drugs are used are good places – they make you stupid, you make poor decisions. Some folks may think – “I can go where I like” and of course you can. You also have to take responsibility for your choices. If you play in a busy street you are more likely to get hit by a car. Same with violence. It isn’t about your ego or your rights. One has to be reasonable – you can’t be a recluse and never go out because the world is a big bad place – you will miss the good things out there, but similarly if you visit places where violence happens then you may end up a victim and not be able to enjoy all the world has to offer.

It is better to run than to de-escalate. Better to de-escalate than to check. Check than to hurt. Hurt than to maim. Maim than to kill. But you do have to get away and the best chance of that is not to be there in the first place. Make sure you train your heiho to deal with things in the big picture – not just waza but heiho. Some say “I am going to hurt you” as they walk towards you. You have many options – run, call for help, call 911 on your cell phone speaking loudly “a man is threatening to hurt and he is coming at me…” , pick up a weapon (stick, chair, whatever is around – start noticing these things), or find cover – there are many things you can do besides use your waza. Not saying that waza doesn’t have it place, but from a heiho, strategy, point of view you want many options when you can see person coming. If you plan ahead you will know to look for these things.

The rookie EMS (ambulance person) runs to the crash – the veteran looks to see if it is safe: for downed electrical wires, etc. Before you go into a situation – if you have time – look at the crowd if there is one – who is around? If you have time for a general plan then it is fine to take a moment and get the lay of the land.

A quick note on hostages (especially with predators in charge) – don’t be moved by threats to your family or friends. If you allow yourself to be tied up because of such a threat – do you think things are going to get better? You have to stay mobile and act. Folks may get hurt but if you give in to such a situation everyone will be hurt and most likely die. Work through this.

Remember whom you can negotiate with and whom you can’t. When you are attacked you are already behind the curve. The attacker picks the time, place and usually it is a surprise. Perhaps even a blitz attack. There is not time to think or decide – your training has to take over. You can run or fight, act crazy or speak another language – you have many options, so pick one. Do not curl up and die. Know that one soldier was hit with 30 bullets and still managed to carry himself and two of his buddies to the helicopter. You are tougher than you think.

If you run, run. Don’t stop cause he asks you or says he won’t hurt you. Evade and escape. Get to safe place. Run to lights – don’t duck down a dark alley.

Now go think and train on these things. Enjoy the training – for the point of surviving is to enjoy life – not to become paranoid or jaded – so please enjoy life – it is a good.