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...