I have been thinking lately about what the most important thing in self protection is. Is it the style, your size, your ability? Or is it something that most people are brought to believe is the “best policy” - honesty?
What do I mean by this? Well, let me explain. I have studied karate for a hell of a lot of my life, at age 40 I think I have trained on and off for 30 years, yes there have been gaps in that training due to life (some longer than I wanted, but hey, that’s life). Being an exponent of Karate and having thought I was pretty good at it as a naive junior Shodan grade, I used to think I could “handle” myself if I ever got into a situation (not that I ever went out looking for trouble). I remember when I was 18/19 years old being out for a night with friends (one of whom is disabled). After several drinks and a kebab, we found ourselves in a park in a lovely coastal town where there general was never any issues. After munching our late night feast, a couple of more unsavoury characters appeared and started to basically bully us as they wanted the bench we were sat on, typical! We didn’t try to reason with the guys, they were high on something, we were slightly worse for wear so we got up to walk away. Two of my friends walked off leaving myself and my disabled friend (to clarify, he isn’t disabled as in wheelchair based). We started to walk off, I was; to my shame; slightly further ahead of my friend who was understandably walking slower. I heard some more abuse from the unsavoury gents who were basically out for a fight and as I turned, I saw my friend pushed to the floor. Not really thinking about it; I did something that, whilst it probably saved my friend from getting a beating, I now see as being quite dangerous. Being essentially on my own, I jumped over my friend putting myself between him and the idiots who were attacking him, I then just stood there in a fighting stance and glared at them. They started asking me what I do “Is that some sort of oriental s**t?” is something I still remember them asking, I merely said yeah and waited. Luckily for me, the idiots were so out of their head they turned on each other as one wanted to go for it with me, the other didn’t want to know and so pushed his mate into a shallow pond. With that, I grabbed my friend and legged it.
In that instance I believe that it was my confidence in the situation that got me out of trouble, but in all honesty, at that time, had they both decided that they wanted to have a pop at me, would I have had the skills to adequately protect my friend and myself? I don’t think I would have fared too well.
That was my first real experience of a self defence incident and, although it worked out well in the end, my God I was naive.
Flash forward some 20 years to where I am now. After many career changes and choices, I have essentially been forced to up my game, I have experienced a multitude of things that most “normal” people will (thankfully) never experience. In my work with young offenders I have been forced to use force to protect myself and others on so many occasions that I have honestly lost count! Thankfully during my time working in that environment it was a fairly secure and closed place with staff available as back up within moments of hitting a little orange button (something that is not widely available on “the street”. What my experience in that role did give me was a lot more confidence in my ability. Not my ability to hurt people in order to stay safe, but my ability to talk to people and essentially talk my way out of incidents and trouble. THAT one skill is more valuable to have than any dan grade in karate believe me!
After several years of working in that environment I am now out of it but still work in a role that brings me into contact with people who want to do harm to others. I have been in this new role for over a year now and am settling in, realising that my skills I have accumulated have set me in a good position to settle in quickly when dealing with confrontation. What I have fast come to understand however is how dishonest people are. I am not talking about the people who go out and thieve things, that is something I have always understood. No, I am talking about general members of the public (usually young 20’s males, but not always). People who go out for a fun evening with mates, thinking all will be good, that they can “handle” themselves. These people are sadly being totally dishonest with themselves, they are not aware of the dangers out there on most streets in most countries.
Am I being over-dramatic with my thinking? I don’t know, I might be, but this last week has highlighted the fact that, no matter how prepared you think you are and how “unbeatable” you are, there is always someone out there who is willing to go that one step further than you are in order to hurt you. Whether that be because they are better equipped (in that they carry a knife or worse), or that they have a mindset where they just want to do damage to someone, they will go further than you think or are prepared to go yourself in order to do harm. This I know as fact.
So, back to being honest with yourself. Can you, if need be defend yourself or another person when being attacked? I know many people will instantly say “yes” without a second thought. However, be honest. You are trained more than people who do not train in martial arts, but is your training adequate? Would you know what to do if someone pulled a blade on you because you are getting the better of them? You’ve trained in kumite, you are used to “fighting” in the dojo, but trust me, in the heat of the moment on a dank winter night things are nowhere near as sterile or protected. The rules do not exist and your body and mind will be going through all sorts - fight, flight or freeze.
What I am trying to say is that I have used my karate techniques on top of other things I have been trained in for work in order to keep myself and others safe, if my voice doesn’t work (which it doesn’t always), then there has to be a plan b. I know that what I do works as it has had to work, I am not saying I can defend myself against all and sundry, but I do know that I have been “pressure tested” if you like.
I fully support what Iain and John (Titchner) do, I have never trained with either of them although I wish I could. But the philosophy of realism is something that has been missing for so long in Karate and the martial arts. People turn up and train thinking that it will help them if things go wrong and yes, it will put you in a better position than someone who has not trained (generally). However, remember - there will always be that one person who will go that one step further in inflict harm on someone else. A person carrying a knife does not require much training in how to use it to inflict harm, be honest with yourself, could you defend yourself in that situation? I’ve faced people with improvised weapons, but the difference is I have lots of training in how to deal with it and, when I have had to face people armed with stuff, I have had colleagues there almost instantly to assist, that doesn’t happen when you are out having a drink
So, yes, the best thing to have in order to keep yourself safe is honesty. Honesty in your own skill set and ability as well as honesty in understanding that not everyone out there is as nice as you and your circle of carefully selected friends, that bad people (even evil people) do exist. That there will always be that person who is prepared to do whatever it takes to hurt someone else as that is what they “enjoy”.
It is for this reason that I want my children to train in some form of martial art and also why I really wish my wife would too.
Thank you for reading this and I am sorry if I have dragged on with it, there was something I needed to get off my chest. I realise that in posting this on here, I am essentially preaching to the converted in general but hey.