Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Why Do You Train?" - Take 43

I really love my school - and not just for the physical aspects of karate we learn how to do. Last night's class, for example, was all about the mental.

Sensei Joe - part amazing karateka/instructor, part web-master - brought in his video camera to film us doing self-defense techniques to post on the school's site. There were only four students in attendance, so we all got a chance to demonstrate for the camera some actual "what would I do to neutralize this bad guy?" scenarios. He had asked that our techniques not only stop the attack/attacker, but make sure his/her will and/or ability to fight was obviously stopped, too.

The first technique I demonstrated was a solid front snap kick to the gut of an attacker as he moved forward to punch. My uke - my son, "Squirrel", who is about 5'8" and 120lbs soaking wet - promptly went flying across the room from the kick. But this "Neo" (my nick-name) had a question, of course: would it really be necessary to re-acquire my adversary since I created enough distance to get away? Seriously - I wouldn't WANT to get close enough to him again to be able to throw a kick or punch since I was now far away from the threat. My instinct would have been to turn and run, but all the men in the room - Sensei Joe, Sensei S., training partner Ed and even my 17-year-old son - said that since what I'd done to stop the confrontation would only stop the attacker for a moment (in fact, my kick might only do little more than piss the dude off), he might try to re-engage. Maybe he'd catch me, maybe he wouldn't - but was that really something I wanted to chance?

That simple question lead to a 45-minute discussion about what it might actually take to get away from a crazed (or high, or drunk or extremely determined) evil-doer - and how to stop him/her if you couldn't.

My reality is that, other than scrapping it out in the dojo with my training partners, my fighting experience is pretty limited. I didn't wrestle with my brothers as a kid (I'm an only child), only jostled once on the playground in grade school (in second grade,a classmate pulled my hair, I pulled hers back and it was over) and haven't ever engaged in a bar fight or other "I'm gonna hurt you!" situation. Looking around the room, it hit me that my senseis, Ed and even my son couldn't say the same. Their practical experience with this "stick and move" stuff was much more extensive than mine and training partner K's (a first-kyu in her late 30's who has some difficulty with self-defense "just do something effective" scenarios as she came through the ranks in a school that never did any of that stuff, if you can believe that). Of course it didn't help that I had a mini flash-back to most recent real-life scenario - my time with "Angry Dad" - right in the middle of the discussion that made me an emotional mess and unable to do any more "let me choke you so you can figure out how to get out of it" scenarios for the remainder of class.

Once I made it to my gear bag and found a tissue, Sensei S. again asked us all the infamous "Why do you train?" rhetorical question before we bowed out - and for the first time ever, no answer resonated through my head. I thought I trained because I absolutely love the challenge of it all and so that seeing a punch come flying towards me won't be so foreign if it ever happens outside of the training hall, but now I'm not so sure. If self-defense really means "finish him/her before s/he finishes you" would I be able to do that? Would I even want to? Hmmm...

The art of self-defense is a multi-headed, living, breathing entity, it seems. Back to "the shed" I go...


  1. Hi, Felecia: You ask some pretty good questions and express some very important ethics issues. If you would allow me I would recommend you read Rory Miller's book, "Facing Violence," as it discusses such issues. You touch on things like ethics and allude to some important aspects that involve legal issues as well for self-defense.

    Keep asking those questions and make sure you have them answered totally, completely and with self-confidence and self-proficiency otherwise ...

  2. Why do I train? To cultivate a clear mind.

  3. Nice post.

    I train to 'not fight'. I learned a long time ago that violent confrontation happens in the milliseconds, and instinctually, to 'stop it'.

    Gawd help me if I ever really need to use Goju, and manage to do it right.

  4. Good question and great post Felicia...the question is one we all must figure out for ourselves and is everchanging...hint: think of it as zen koan.

  5. Hi, Mr. James...I've read your comments about "Facing Violence" on your blog and thought it sounded interesting. Off to Amazon :-) Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Hoping that clear mind would help me in a confrontation, Rick...

    Narda, I had a long talk with a training partner last night who is convinced that he can and will "do what it takes" in a situation - because he's been there before. As I haven't, really, I'm hopeful that, if I ever need to apply the techniques I train so hard to comprehend, I can flip that switch...

    I agree, Shinzen, about the everchangingness (is that even a word?) of the question. Like a car's MPG, individual results may vary - depending on the situation.

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  7. A clear mind is the only thing that can help you in a confrontation.

  8. You know, Felicia,I'm fast coming to the conclusion that to truly understand self-defence one needs to understand violence. If we don't understand how violence manifests in an attacker and in what ways it will be directed towards us, I don't see how we can understand how to control or stop it. The book that Charles recommended is probably a good starting point for learning about violence.

    I'm starting to realise that just learning various techniques to counter different grabs and strikes is only half the equation. Understanding the psychology of violence and how an attacker is likely to respond to being countered (particularly if he is high on drugs/alcohol) seems just as important to me. I don't think my karate training provides me with this other half of the equation, does yours?

  9. Outstanding comment Sue! Have you asked your Sensei about this point of view?

  10. Not yet Charles - it's just something that I'm starting to realise at the moment.

  11. Hi, Sue...I think that's where class was going that night. The idea was to not let the adversary be the dictator of when "enough was enough." Taking away his/her ability and/or will to continue the fight was totally up to the person being attacked; that my senseis want us never to assume that the threat is done just because dude "looks" hurt or is far enough away was the idea. I hear what they are saying and understand what they are trying to get me to see, but it still feels a bit foreign - probably because I'm not sure I WANT to understand violence that much (seems like a very, very dark place). KNOWING that is a huge, huge part of it, though; for me, anyway.

    Yeah, I know - lots more work to do here...

  12. I'm totally with you about not WANTING to understand violence that much but I think it has to come with the territory if we want our self defence to be really effective. This is where we need to make choices about what kind of Martial Artist we want to be so that we can follow the right path.

  13. Excellent discussion.

    I think another component of self-defense for the female practitioner is recognizing that an attacker may be someone they already know.

  14. I get that violence can be so much like the tornadoes ripping through the US this season - intense, unpredictable and potentially catastrophic - but the reality is that I can almost never control what an attacker may try to do - right? I only have control over what I do about it/in response to it. For me, it's awareness, avoidance & de-escalation, and I'm not ashamed to say that running the hell away if opportunity presents itself is always on the table. Engaging is the very last option - I decided that a long time ago - so my mindset will always be to do what needs to be done so I can get the heck out of Dodge as quickly as possible. The techniques I train to learn - the kicks against joints, the rakes, the eye gouges, the arm bars/breaks and strikes to the head/neck are designed to take said evil doer out - I get that. I don't want to do ANY of it I can help it - because to me, there is no "half-way." It's either all the way off or all the way on. Like Narda said - God help me if I ever have to actually use Goju. God help the person standing in front of me, too.

    And I hear you, Michele - although the "rapist in the bushes" happens, the fact that most women are attacked by someone they already know is one of the best-kept secrets there is. A palm-heel strike to the nose of some stranger trying to drag you behind the bushes is very different than the same attack to the nose of your neighbor, boyfriend/spouse/partner or even the guy you met a few hours ago on a blind date. Flipping the switch in those scenarios is something I'm sure isn't too often discussed, much less taught - at least it hasn't been in any self-defense class I've ever attended...

  15. Felecia: If you persist in self-talk that says, "Can't" then you can't. By attaining the knowledge and making the ethical decisions regarding violence you get more power or self-control.

    This knowledge, although difficult to swallow, provides you the ability to avoid it.

    Just my view. Jiko no Hanachi no Gaijustu of self talk is powerful.

  16. "Whether you think you can or you think you can't - you're probably right" is an adage I try very hard to live by. The word "can't" isn't really in my vocabulary unless it is followed by "yet" and I'm working on that thing while I'm speaking...

    I guess what I was trying to say earlier to Sue is that I'm not sure it's totally necessary to understand violence on that microscopic a level. To me, it's like knowing every possible martial technique and lock - which may not even be possible. When running through self-defense scenarios in my head and I get to "what would you do if..." situations where I have no answer, I get the help I need to figure it out - from my senseis, other instructors and training partners. That's what drilling/running funky dojo scenarios are all about to me - as is sparring to a certain degree - so that if faced with similar in the "real" world, it won't be so foreign that it causes a deer in the headlights/now what? reaction.

    For me, the ethical decision making starts long before an attack is eminent. I think it's important that every martial artist know not only how far she/he CAN go in the face of adversity, but how far she/he is WILLING to go. Everyone's line in the sand is different - but I believe it is important to know where that line is.