I know that I continually return to this topic from different angles but I feel it is necessary.
I have heard people use the term ‘defensive art’ ever since I started training over forty years ago. I’ve even used the term in the past to describe Jook Lum. My feelings on this topic have evolved greatly over time. Akido, Taiji and other arts will claim they are defensive arts and basically non-violent. I get this. I get why someone wants to study an art that claims to be non-violent. No sane person wants to be violent or be engaged in a violent situation. If you go to a school and they tell you that you can protect yourself in a non-violent fashion it is very appealing. It’s safe and kind. The harshness of a violent world gets softened. The phrase ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ is civilized by this idea. The problem is; it is dead wrong. I’ve said this before- imagine fighting a bobcat defensively; it can’t be done. A ferocious attack must be met with a ferocious defense. You are not going to guide the cat’s energy and safely escape. It’s like thinking you can play and practice touch football and then go into a full contact game. It’s silly, it won’t work. I’ve heard people say that they think they can use their Akido moves to take down a football player. It’s not going to work friends.
I’ve fought humans who have this ferocity. Their intent is to hurt you and they don’t care if they are hurt. You can’t reason with them or guide their movements. You must either attack fiercely or run quickly, there are no other options. Someone crazed out of their minds or high on drugs is single mindedly violent. A wrist lock or a throw is not going to stop them. Once while training with a military expert I knocked him into the air and onto his back when he came at me with a gun (fake). He landed on his back, laughing and saying “bang , bang , bang” and he ‘shot’ me as he landed violently. He looked at me and said incredulously, “you think the bad guy drops the gun when you throw him? Really? He NEVER drops the gun”. It was quite eye opening.
Years ago when I was working out in the Chinatown kwoon I got into t discussion with a fellow named Russell who was from the ‘hood’. At the time I was studying Taoism under Wei Hsun Fu and I was submerged in philosophy and religious thought. Russell made a comment about being in a life and death situation. I commented that I did not want to ever take a life and in fact, if in that situation of kill or be killed, I would not kill the other to save myself. I would only be defensive and never fight to kill even if given no choice. Russell looked at me and said, “Man, you’re a fool! Are you going to let some bad guy win and go on being bad rather than stopping him? Are you going to let him roam society, hurt woman and children because you’ve taken some high and mighty moral stance? What’s moral about that man? A good guy dies so a bad guy can live. You’re crazy. Where I come from we want the good guys to win, you owe it to yourself and you family. Crazy man, you’re crazy”. Clearly I never forgot that conversation and it had a great impact on me. He lived in that hostile environment and was stunned by my naivety of it. There is no justice when you let the criminal go on to someone else when you could have stopped it.
We come to martial arts schools to learn to be safe. We want some type of guarantee or security. We hear that certain movements, hands and special techniques will insure our safety. When you practice in the school with other students these techniques work. The problem is that those other students are not your enemies, have nothing to lose and nothing immanently vested in making it work. The criminal on the street has his freedom or life to lose so therefore will fight with great ferocity. Often folks come to me to learn the Jook Lum ‘hands’ as if there is magic in it. In just the last few months I’ve had several folks from short fist arts come and visit us. They have all kinds of nice moves and flashy hands but when paired with someone throwing real punches at them they collapsed. They were not used to someone who dances around taking shots at them while staying at a safe range. No one rushes in stupidly, they pick and run and whittle you down. I guess they didn’t like this realistic training since none of them came back. If you don’t train realistically you cannot fight realistically. This does not mean you have to bash each other about but you do have to bring some intent to it. If you do not train under pressure your brain cannot adapt to it. If you train in comfort your brain only develops in the cognitive parts and not the instinctual parts. When you are actually in a real and violent situation your brain switches to the rear part; all the cognitive training is lost to the ‘fight or flight’. Since the fight aspect was not trained in the correct part of the brain we will fold under pressure.
Just training to fend off someone allows them control of the fight. If your only reaction is to their action then they have the advantage. No matter how good you are you will eventually get hurt. You have to engage in their action and disrupt it, break their rhythm and shut them down. This is not easy and takes a lot of training. I’ve said for many years there is no such thing as self defense. You must offend their attack. What they begin you must finish.
Do you feel comfortable hearing this? Most likely not but sadly it’s true. There’s just no easy, safe way to do this. You can up your odds greatly and even lean great skills in avoiding a confrontation but if it comes down to it, you won’t be able to handle it unless you develop the skills.
Ideas, articles, lessons, and retrospective moments.