It’s not that you don’t do it. I’m sure that if you are a form practitioner interested in bringing a functional purpose beyond postural exercise to your forms then you do. It’s just that some people seem to pay no more than lip service to actual analysis when arriving at their applications. For me bunkai is about methodology and criteria. I’m very strict about what I teach, for what purpose I teach it, the context of each tactic, and why I choose to drill some applications and not others.
In my Pinan Flow System series of books I discussed many of the criteria I use when assessing potential applications as to whether I deem them worthy of inclusion in my teaching and training repertoire. To borrow an analogy from recent popular culture, my bunkai process sits like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir in the Avengers’ Headquarters, and impressive characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Hulk attempt and fail to lift it. Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark remarks “The handle is imprinted, right? Like a security code. “Whoever is carrying Thor’s fingerprints,” I think, is the literal translation.” and some might think that in similar vein my bunkai process only chooses applications that I have formed myself, but as Thor observes “Yes, well, that’s a very interesting theory. However, I have a simpler one. You’re all not worthy.” Thor’s honesty (and that Mjolnir does accept other worthy people) is demonstrated later in the film by the character Vision also lifting the hammer. In similar vein I will obviously use good material from other people that meets my analysis criteria. I’m always looking for it when I cross train, and I have referenced in books and videos other instructors such as Rick Clark or Waldo Zapata when I have taken or adapted a drill that I’ve seen them do that lifts my Mjolnir.
So what do I look for through my bunkai? I’m certainly not trying to retrospectively work out the purpose someone in the past saw in a single movement or sequence. Past use or historical accuracy does not guarantee effectiveness or appropriateness in our environment. I have seen in one demonstration of another art an application which I think is such a good fit for a kata sequence that it is highly likely to be the ‘original’ envisioned use; unfortunately it is only appropriate for one on one encounters on soft ground and so I will not drill it – it fails the criteria of my bunkai. If I was teaching seminars in kata application for MMA matches I’d probably train and demonstrate it.
My analysis criteria to find applications looks for movements and tactics meeting as many as possible of a number of combative principles. Here are mine with brief explanatory notes. This is the Mjolnir used to forge my applications.
HAOV Relevant – focusing on habitual acts of violence, whether for pre-emptive use in pre fight posturing, or recovering the initiative from the most likely forms of initial attack, delivering an effective follow through in the event of tactic failure, or dealing with likely secondary or tertiary attacks from failures are important to me because that is the environment for which I am training my students. The physical acts of violence within HAOV may include defending against ‘professional’ or skilled tactics, but I do distinguish between habitual and historical. Purely focusing on the physical techniques is martial arts training not self defence, teaching them alongside patterns of crime, avoidance, deterrence, negation/de-escalation, legal underpinning, aftermath etc. is where more accurately you are teaching self defence as part of personal safety/self protection.
Legally Underpinned – this is not the weak option. This is not about increasing your risks in a situation, it is about decreasing your risks afterwards. This is about understanding force and how to use it effectively within the law. It’s about having a training methodology that results in drills that lessen the risk to practitioners should they have to engage in non-consensual violence. This is an important aspect of self protection. You’re not in an action flick; violence has consequences.
Effective, Efficient and Easy
Minimising Risk of Harm (defender) – I don’t often stress this because I think it is obvious. Protect your head! Don’t rely purely on your technique working. I shudder every time I see someone hit or enter while demonstrating a kata application without doing this. I slap myself if I get so distracted by teaching that I don’t do it in demonstration. If both hands are engaged then not doing this makes sense, but both hands should not be engaged if your head is in or going through a potential striking line.
Technique Multiplicity with Transferable Skills – You don’t want a huge repertoire. You want a small repertoire that can effectively be used to do a lot of different things. You also want the training efficiency that comes from transferable skills.
Utilising Predictable Response – This isn’t simply about how people are likely to attack you if you stand one way rather than another, it’s more about understanding how people really move when things work and when things don’t. You need to hit people and grapple with people to find this out.
Taking and maintaining the Initiative
Inherent Redundancy – Things go wrong, things fail. It might be due to size, strength, angle, or intoxication. You have to have back ups.
Vital Points Targeting – I’m not really talking about Kyusho here, although there are overlaps. Go for weak points. Maximise the efficiency of your movements. This is the secret ingredient in the icing on the cake – the ingredients and cooking of the cake is more important overall.
Adrenaline Tolerant – It’s got to work under pressure. Raising your heart rate can simulate some aspects of this but it’s not the same. While I’d like to see it with bigger group samples to draw firm conclusions, I’ve seen similar increases in combination lock opening times between 5 minutes of hard aerobic exercise and 1 minute of verbal argument followed by 3 second fight simulations in scenario training.
Low Maintenance – It should be simple. That doesn’t mean it can’t have several stages and turns. A lot of things look or feel complex until you’ve done them a few times (watch beginners trying to turn their hips or coordinate arms and legs), but it should be easy to keep at a high skill level.
Stable Posture – Your techniques should not compromise your balance.
Unbalancing – We should always be looking to reduce the other person’s ability to unbalance us, hit us, or brace against a hit.
Multiple Person Awareness – you can only effectively fight one person at a time, but doing so should hinder the ability of others to join in rather than make you an easy target. Some favour close range for this, others favour long range. I certainly favour movement, changing angles and head protection with any free arm.
Holistic Integrity – A technique can be great, but if it doesn’t fit with everything else you do it’s near useless to you. Techniques and tactics need to fit together and be able to flow into each other (see redundancy). An application may look cool, but does it force you to make a completely different initial response to normal?
Rest is highly under-rated. Most people do not allow themselves adequate rest between different types of training to maximize the benefits of such training and give the body enough time to recover. Failure to allow appropriate recovery is the equivalent of taking a step back for every two steps forward. This isn’t just about taking time off from training or mixing lower intensity sessions or having varied workouts. The amount (and quality) of sleep you take has an impact on your mental and physical performance, memory retention and therefore progress.
This isn’t so much about flexibility as mobility. Daily routines that encourage and increase your joint mobility and maintain or increase your ability to reach or turn will reduce the likelihood of injury in more intensive training. You do not need to ‘warm up’ to do this. You are already at body temperature, your muscles aren’t going to get warmer. Gradually extend and increase your range of motion in supported exercises. When was the last time you saw a Yoga class do star jumps on the spot for fifteen minutes before starting their routines?
This is a no brainer. We all like to treat ourselves and most of us should have a pretty good idea of what is good for us and what isn’t (despite frequently contradictory isolated studies being taken out of context to attract interest in the mainstream media). Ultimately a nutritionally varied diet that doesn’t upset your stomach and helps you maintain or achieve the weight you want is what you should aim for. If you want your body to recover and be ready for training you have to give it adequate fuel. Saying that you are trying to ‘lose fat’ and then cutting the fat or carbs in your diet so much that you don’t recover properly after training, or suffer mental fatigue, or feel too tired to train is counter-productive.
Visualisation isn’t actually what I mean. Good practitioners can visualise what a technique or tactic looks like and see themselves doing it. More experienced practitioners who have spent time internalising their training can feel a technique without doing it, replicating in their mind not only the sight but the tactile sensation and feedback of the movements. Greater awareness of what you are doing leads to better practice and more reliable skills. If you’ve not done this before it will be hard to begin with. Many people initially cannot visualise something without physically replicating the movement, but when this happens to me I take it as confirmation that I don’t know it as well as I should. Moving from closed eye video representation to adding in tactile feedback (foot pressure, muscle sensations etc.) requires both more paired practice and attention to detail (shutting your eyes in paired training once engaged tactilely and ‘strike-safe’ can help as can focusing on sensory feedback in forms).
If only I had the time, or the energy!
You do have the time, because most of us have unrealistic expectations of what personal practice can be and should be.
Although they can overlap, a training session that develops strength, a training session that works your aerobic fitness (and requires ‘fitness clothing’ and makes you sweat) and a training session that develops core skill sets (balance, mobility, sound biomechanics, coordination etc.) do not have to be the same thing. At full speed most ‘full’ kata only take 10 to 40 seconds to practice, at slow speed you are only talking one to two minutes for a high quality repetition, and quality repetition makes a huge difference. You don’t have the space? Don’t do the full kata, or practice alternative stepping and weight transference to enable you to do a full form. You have no space? You’re sitting on a train? See item 4! Rehearse in your mind what the moves feel like – research shows that mental rehearsal can be as powerful for imprinting good biomechanics as physical rehearsal. It is something done by most top-level sport competitors in multiple disciplines, so why not follow their example?
You don’t have the energy?
Again I’d say that is both an issue of perception of how much energy is required, and what your body is acclimatized to do. A hard training session after a normal working day is both a mental and physical challenge for most people (especially parents) compared to relaxing at home. It’s a wonder that many people make it to training, but then those that do find that socialising with people in a different environment (or simply setting a moment aside at home), doing something that takes the mind away from all other distractions, can be incredibly relaxing and beneficial.
The more you do, the more you become capable of doing. The trick is to stretch yourself gradually, stretching rather than breaking the comfort zone. Those of us who use Leisure Centres are familiar with the January and February perfume of deep heat that accompanies the upsurge in attendance from people who have set themselves challenging New Year resolutions. The aroma only last two months because most people do not set SMART targets for their progress: they aim too high too soon and lose both the mental resolve and the physical recovery to continue. Increase what you do gradually, follow the other five shortcuts, and you will have the energy.
Is this really as obvious as I think it is?
It’s a well-known mantra to tell people to consume more fluids, but how many of us really do it?
You are a bag of water, you are continually losing water, and you need to replenish it at safe levels on a regular basis in order to function efficiently. Simple lack of adequate hydration can have as profound an impact on your concentration, reaction time and vision as tiredness or mild intoxication.
Hydration affects your quality of life. You don’t have to drink pints of water and you don’t have to overspend on flashy prefabricated isotonic drinks or sugar-laden juices. Your food choices can affect how much you need to drink as a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables will contain good levels of moisture, but a healthy person will need to replenish fluids on a regular basis.
Is this all too obvious? Then ask yourself honestly, how many of these do you really adhere to?
Thanks to Dan White for the mobility exercise image. I do not own the rights to the food or bed images.
One of the most prevalent myths I’ve noticed over the years in the martial arts community is efficacy of hitting men in the groin as a one-stop solution to the problem of physical violence.
There is no doubt that strikes to that area can be effective. But a number of people teaching them as part of a self defence curriculum seem rely on them far too much. Like any target on the body, depending on numerous factors, they can range from being fight stoppers to unnoticed insignificant body shots.
In terms of targets, with regard to men, these are the groin itself and the testicles.
- Frontal groin impact can cause severe pain if the muscles there are relaxed or weak and the bladder is full (and might perhaps cause rupturing of the bladder), but this is by no means certain. Of more use perhaps is the unbalancing effect that groin shots can have on the angle of the subject’s pelvis, creating opportunities for escape or further strikes. While I cannot speak from personal experience (and it isn’t a question I ask or get asked regularly), the same impact on women may well traumatise the female reproductive system and cause pain.
- While most men have probably experienced pain in the testicles at some point in time due to impact, compression or movement, none of these can be guaranteed by a direct hit at any angle.
To a large degree the effectiveness of groin strikes relies on pain compliance. Factors involved here are the angle and force of impact in terms of whether it affects the target to elicit a normal pain response, and whether the chemistry of the body at the time is such that it recognises and responds in a useful fashion to that stimulus.
There is no doubt that are lots of possible ways to attack the groin. The Enter the Dojo show regularly parodies the over reliance of some on this target and Master Ken has demonstrated 100 ways to attack the groin.
Hitting the groin effectively outside of prearranged combinations is not always easy. If people are actively resisting each other and are hands-on, often the angle of the body is such that the groin is further back than the rest of the torso making it less accessible. Overly tight or loose cut clothing can often impede upward strikes towards the testicles. A further factor is that you get good at what you train for: obviously it may seem to be a ‘natural’ target, but you’ll tend to be better at hitting the things you practice targeting. That’s not to say that groin/testicle shots can’t happen. I have seen numerous accidental ‘hard’ groin shots in training to people without cups and effects have ranged from them being unnoticed, unbalancing knock backs (creating an opportunity for follow ups) or fight stoppers.
A large factor in this has often been how intense the training was – the less intense, the more mentally and physically relaxed the recipient, the more effective the strike. Those who were fully committed to attacking the striker often did not notice they had been hit. It is the unexpected nature of the impact as much as the impact itself that can frame the response. On a number of occasions I have been unaware of being caught until an hour or so after training when I have literally doubled over while sitting at a table as if I had just been hit; the body had been sending pain signals but adrenaline related chemical factors had inhibited their recognition.
Do groin strikes have their place in a self defence curriculum?
Of course they do.
As with every other strike we should be prepared for failure and have a redundancy trained in place for when they do not work. We do not expect every hit to the head to result in a knockout (although such strikes can be devastating and should always be context appropriate), nor do we expect every knock to the leg to cause a person to fall to the ground desisting in attack or pursuit. Groin strikes can be part of a repertoire, they can be effective, but they are not a guaranteed escape plan and to paint them as such is simply bollocks.
In all of my books and videos there are deliberate differences between my kata and my paired application (oyo) that has resulted from my analysis (bunkai).
“Practicing a kata is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another.”
Gichin Funakoshi, Twenty Precepts
Karate kata are generally taught and trained as a solo platform. Through their stances they hint at suggested weight distribution and methods of movements that can support the upper and lower body techniques of which they are made, and indeed at the oyo (if any) of the form that its teacher had in mind from their own bunkai.
I say ‘if any’ because changes in kata may be made to obfuscate purpose, allow greater speed in transitional movement for aesthetic purposes, or provide a greater athletic challenge. Furthermore changes may come about through the copying of the movements of older karateka who have themselves changed their form to reflect how they wish to move and exercise their more mature bodies, or through ignorance of potential oyo or flaws in their approach.
This is not meant as a criticism of any one system; the onus is on all of us to examine what we do and ensure that in application we use the most appropriate posture rather than sticking with something higher or deeper as the case may be.
But whether moving slow or fast in the kata, there is a significant difference between executing controlled techniques into thin air compared with endeavouring to make maximum impact on a target, or moving against the resistance of another person while grappling. This is a subject about which I have written in greater detail in Volume Four of my Pinan Flow System series of books.
The postures and techniques found in the majority of movements in kata are not designed to exactly replicate the biomechanical structure for optimum application, but instead their purpose is varied and can be:
- to protect karateka from unbalancing, instability and injury by limiting the power of movement against no resistance,
- to balance the ‘hollow body’ that forms good biomechanical structure for striking and grappling with exercise that inverts that posture to ensure balanced muscle development for good health,
- to indicate either a single tactic or through generalisation (lack of specificity) give an altered movement that acts as a coat hanger reference point for multiple similar or overlapping tactics,
- to highlight a principal of movement on which a number of tactics are based,
- to provide an important physical exercise that underpins and strengthens the muscles required for many tactics.
In many kata there are straight rear leg postures or very high stances. These are not necessarily wrong, but a product of their context. A straight leg can be an exaggerated example of thrust, codified into ‘good form’ for aesthetic purposes and to limit forward momentum against thin air which risks injuring the knee joint. In similar vein, thin air fighting puts balance and weight bearing limits on power generation through the movement and positioning of the knee and hip.
Unlike the postures often utilised throughout the majority of kata, when grappling with a training partner, attacking, preparing to attack or bracing during an attack, the back should not be held at a perfect right angle to the ground.
No matter how good your stance or footwork, having an ‘upright’ or classically ‘arched’ back while resisting physical force from another person is biomechanically unsound. The greater the level of force you are resisting, the more necessary it is to brace appropriately to take the load so as not to place undue stress on your back or compromise your balance, so the greater the angle of your back (and depth of stance and thus angle of shin) required. There is a difference between lifting an object and exerting or resisting force along other planes of movement.
The postures of kata protect and develop the body in solo training. They are the other side of the coin that balances the effect of the postures of paired training. Karate is soft and hard, relaxation and tension, grappling and striking, slow and fast, expansion and contraction.
For health and flexibility, form cannot always mirror function. To provide greater depth of application from a limited sequence of movements, form cannot always mirror function.
The kata is a map, but the map is not the territory.
There is a difference between training (for development and/or testing of skills) and utilizing those skills outside of your training, whether in a competitive format, in scenario training or in an unsolicited violent situation.
What we do in training is a game. That is true whether you are competing in any of the top-level martial arts competitions or whether you are engaging in the most realistic self defence training possible. It may be a game focused on a very serious purpose, it may be incredibly tough, but it is a game nonetheless and it has rules and conventions in place to enable it to be played in a manner that not only allows for progressive skill development but also can be done safely. It is important that we all accept this in order to gain the maximum benefit from our training.
So what do I mean by ‘playing the game’?
When you train with someone else it is in your interests to ensure that they, like you, are developing their skill sets and improving. A training partner that cannot progress limits your potential because it means that the training you do with them will be limited and less fulfilling for both you and them.
It is obvious that there are times when you should resist your partners movements, and they yours, but doing so at the expense of learning or practicing the optimum biomechanics for a movement is not necessarily one of them. You have to play the game and increase resistance gradually. In similar vein being a completely limp training partner can be a step too far and again limit the development of the necessary skill sets, which is a waste of both people’s time. It is in your interests (both in terms of training safety and your own skill development) to have a skilled adaptable and alert training partner, and you bear a measure of responsibility for that as well as both your partner and the class instructor.
Training is a game for more than one person, and any drill – be it attacking, taking a throw, or holding a pad has as much educational value and potential for the receiver (observing patterns of movement, learning telegraphs, feeling for flaws or potential escapes, learning why a hold works to better employ or escape it, psychological conditioning) as it does for the one practicing.
Almost all my drills are games and they involve making pulled contact to elicit movement; as a result they require give and take. It’s important to know when to go with a drill or how to resist to allow someone to practice and refine a skill set and when to seize opportunities to turn the tables, to take an escape if the opportunity is there, to teach both parties about their strengths and weakness and keep themselves ‘on their toes’.
If I hit someone in training, but pull the contact, I expect that person to move as if they have been hit and simulate some degree of effect, whether that be the full effect (going down) or partial (turning the head or body, buckling the legs, or momentarily relaxing). If they don’t do this then my follow up response is nonsensical – my training partner is not playing the game, they aren’t giving me realistic stimuli and thus they are inhibiting the development of appropriate responses.
This is akin to a person holding pads for a head shot but putting all their force into their arm so it is as if the person’s head is a stone cliff face. Heads move. Certainly some people have such strong necks that their heads don’t move so much, but they are few and far between (and an experienced person might relax their neck with a shot to an alternative target first). For a person developing their head shots, and learning the biomechanics of power delivery, the game needs to be played. The pad needs to give, the resistance has to be measured. If you engaging in mobile pad training and you never let your training partner hit the pads, you aren’t doing anything for their confidence or skill development. You may think you are proving that you are faster but you’re actually proving something else about yourself.
Whenever you are training you need to keep in mind both context and purpose. What are you training for and what is the purpose of the exercise you are doing. It is a game. Playing to win every time is not necessarily a winning strategy.
To kick or not to kick, that is the question.
This debate comes up regularly on martial arts forums and such discussions tend to produce variations on a number of regular characters:
- The person who is convinced that whatever he or she does in class will work.
- The person who sees kicking as a low percentage strategy but advocates low kicks if kicks are used at all.
- The person who has used kicks ‘in real fights’ and therefore believes that they are a high percentage effective strategy, especially high kicks.
- The person who has used kicks in competitive fighting and therefore believes they can do so in self defence.
- The person who has no opinion but just wants information.
- The troll.
So who’s right?
When it comes to applying martial arts techniques in self defence, context and training methods determine the results. We get good at what we train for.
If you don’t train kicks regularly then the likelihood of being able to use them in a self defence situation decreases considerably.
Whether you can use kicks bears no relation to what someone else has reputedly done in self defence or in the ring, it depends not only on how much you train them, but how you train them.
If the opportunity to kick comes in the form of relative positioning and pressure that is familiar to you, then you are likely to be able to employ that skillset. Everything comes down to how you train and to a large extent how many of the six things you should do in physical training for self defence are present in your approach.
A few years ago I put together a video showing all the kicks and attempted kicks used by participants from a range of different martial disciplines in my Sim Day scenario training. The clips came from hundreds of simulations, but featured very few kicks indeed (although knees were very successfully employed).
This was in part due to the enclosed environment, but primarily because most people had no experience in trying to kick at that range or under those conditions. Although we don’t kick in many of our regular drills, of the participants my personal karate students (and a very experienced LEO who is also a Ju Jutsu instructor) kicked the most because the environment and range was familiar.
Since then I have seen more kicks employed successfully because the kickers are returnees to the Sim Days and are not only more comfortable with the environment and range but have also made little tweaks to their own training based on the lessons from previous sessions.
So can you kick in self defence?
Only you and your training can decide that.
Disclaimer. This is an analogy. Like all analogies it generalises.
Kata, for most of us, is fixed. It is a set construct that we learn and rehearse. It does not vary very much. Over time different instructors have figuratively taken the same block of ice and carved away at some of the edges, added on smaller blocks, broken it down into lots of blocks and reassembled it in a different way, or taken chipped off elements from lots of different blocks to form a new block for others to replicate. In this manner we have lots of stylistic variations on the same kata and new kata have been created. Because it has been frozen (fixed) and joined in different places at different times its crystals are generally not aligned and it is filled with air bubbles; the block is opaque.
Training regularly is said to polish technique. Training regularly in a kata does indeed polish the structure, it polishes the surface of the ice. You get to know the contours and positions, you can form them in your minds eye and they become ingrained. Polishing the ice has value for understanding the shape of the form. But form is not the same as function. Form is a dance that teaches important positions, movements and develops strength and balance – a combative dance but a dance nonetheless. Polishing the ice brings the satisfaction of the development of those attributes, it takes a lot of effort and brings clarity to the surface, but as with a lot of ice the interior remains opaque and hidden. The dancer cannot utilise the form outside of the choreography; to deal with the unpredictable they are forced to utilise other methods. Their kumite and/or self defence bears no resemblance to their kata.
As a state of matter, ice is limited. It is strong, incredibly strong, but not adaptable. It can be cut to fit shapes, but then is limited to those shapes. It is limited to predictable fixed scenarios.
There is a welcome increase in the interest in learning the applications of kata in karate at present. This interest itself is nothing new, but I would argue that for many years the explanations given to students were so ridiculous and ill-informed that they drove away from karate those of a practical and independently minded nature who were not prepared to overlook the deficit and simply continue to develop the attributes gained by polishing ice.
More than ever it is possible for karateka to easily find videos and books on karate application, and while there is exceptionally good stuff out there, it still isn’t all that common and it is often surrounded by the bad and the ugly. Even amongst the good, I see a lot of demonstrated applications produced by well meaning people that I regard as ice. They have simply chopped up the kata into smaller blocks and arranged each for static attacks. There is no evidence of adaptability, there is no provision for failure, a way of moving between applications is not taught. They have simply created more blocks of cloudy ice. It is simply a smaller dance routine. They have the shape of the form but cannot see through its substance.
To get inside the kata you have to do more than break it into blocks. You have to heat it up through training. You have to work those blocks through unpredictable and dynamic training until they completely break down and merge together into one transparent mass of water. Good application is like water. It moves freely, it fills and exploits spaces, and it continuously adapts. The tiny air bubbles and ill aligned crystals that made the ice opaque disappear, and the meaning and potential become clear. Applications should be fluid, they should be adaptable, and we should be able to flow like water from one to the next, nor be limited to one kata.
Once we have our water, our kata becomes something different. A medium through which we swim in our paired or multiple person training. We benefit from and utilise its substance, but it no longer constrains us with the rigidity of blocks of ice. Having heated it this way through our training, we can allow it to cool in a controlled manner into ice for our solo practice, and because we can control how slowly it cools and freezes in layers, we control its opacity. It is ice to polish once more in solo practice, but now it is transparent, and now we can see through it.
Kata may be ice. But be like water my friend.
“In war it is all-important to gain and retain the initiative, to make the enemy conform to your action, to dance to your tune. When you are advancing, this normally follows; if you withdraw, it is neither so obvious nor so easy. Yet it is possible. There are three reasons for retreat: self-preservation, to save your force from destruction; pressure elsewhere which makes you accept loss of territory in one place to enable you to transfer troops to a more vital front; and, lastly, to draw the enemy into a situation so unfavourable to him that the initiative must pass to you.”
Field Marshal Viscount William Slim, Defeat into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945
Many tactics cross multiple fields. We can draw upon the experience and advice of successful military leaders and apply it not only to modern warfare and politics, but also to business decisions and even to competitive or consensual violence.
But does this apply to personal safety? Is there value here for the physical element of self protection, the aspect that is often termed self defence? While self defence has some overlaps with
- consensual violence (accepting a challenge to ‘a fight’ or engaging in physical violence when it could be safely avoided),
- competitive violence (such as UFC, Olympic TKD, WTF Karate etc.),
- or the use of armed or unarmed force by individuals in a professional civilian or military capacity (such as Security, Police or Infantry),
it is a different entity.
It is a simplification, but I like to think of self protection as to
AVOID, DETER, NEGATE and ESCAPE aggressive behaviours and violence.
Each of those has many facets. The final one, escape, is the physical one. Its aim is extrication – whether of myself or others. It’s a deliberately vague and permissive term in some respects, while being incredibly definite in others.
The aim is to escape. It is to remove myself (or others) from harm. That harm to me also includes possible repercussions from the use of violence. That is not something to think of at the time: that is something that is addressed beforehand in training methodology and the mentality fostered. This aim is one of self-preservation and it is one of strength. I give myself permission to do whatever I think is necessary to reasonably negate the threat as I honestly perceive it at the time.
Slim’s exhortation to “gain and retain the initiative” is one to which all good self protection instructors adhere. We see it in so many forms. It is keeping others in the OO of the OODA loop for example. The physical means to this will vary from person to person, from instructor to instructor, from system to system.
But how much of what Slim says here applies to self protection?
Retreating for self-preservation is wiser than seeking a battle you do not have to fight nor gain from winning. While you should not have to, choosing carefully where you go out, what route you walk or drive, or leaving an unfinished drink at a club or bar because of a bad vibe or argument; all these are common sense.
Accepting the loss of territory in one area to enable you to transfer troops to a more vital front?
This could be applied to the planning of property defence or burglary prevention situations where you choose to strengthen security/protection/cctv in one area at the expense of another, but this does not apply to most self defence situations.
It is the last item on Slim’s list that is the most interesting to me, and perhaps the most controversial. “To draw the enemy into a situation so unfavourable to him that the initiative must pass to you.”
This is something we see all the time in competitive and consensual violence. One or both participants trying to trick the other in order to gain and retain the initiative makes up a significant proportion of each event.
Does this apply to self defence?
How or when do you draw someone into making a mistake while retreating so you can escape if you are trying to avoid, deter or negate the threat in the first instance? This is different from pre-emption. Pre-emption is an aggressive defence selected when threat avoidance, deterrence and negation (negotiation) have failed. It may be disguised by innocuous body language, it may be set up by the trick of a gesture or a glance, but it is part of the advance that Slim describes, not a trick of retreat.
In non consensual violence, until aggression or violence occurs an interview process is still taking place. The target is threat assessed. In most instances if the target appears aware of the selection or exhibits body language or verbal indications that they will pose a risk of failure and potential harm/exposure to an aggressor, they are deselected in favour of searching for an alternative easier target.
Luring an attack by retreating to appearing weak through your body language is not a sound self defence strategy in the vast majority of cases.
Few attacks are certain until they commence, and once an attack does commence there is no certainty that by appearing weak beforehand it will be any less aggressive or successful. What criminally/violently inclined person thinks “I’m going to attack/approach this person differently/in-a-less-alert-manner because they don’t appear to be ready for me”? That is a competitive sparring perspective. In most cases a person that has selected a target is alert and watching for signs that things might go wrong.
A faked weak persona is not so likely to lull them into a false sense of security and vulnerability to counter attack as a confident persona is likely to deter them from attack in the first instance.
I am not a psychologist but I would wager that those undeterred from continuing by a strong front are not going to initiate in a manner that leads them to be successfully suckered by a fake weak front. It is a strategy that will have worked on occasion, but it is a poorer strategy than deterrence.
To sum up I return once more to the initial words of this quotation from Field Marshall Slim. “It is all-important to gain and retain the initiative, to make the enemy conform to your action, to dance to your tune.” This goes beyond the physicality of self defence and to the heart of self protection. Avoid, Deter. Negate.