Time for another promised Martial Arts and Self-Defense post. So what do you all think the most important self-defense skill is? Blocking? Footwork? Getting power behind your strikes? I’d probably get a variety of answers even from fellow martial artists.
I’d argue that the most important Self-Defense skill is “street smarts” or awareness; being able to notice details in your surroundings, and size up people and places as potentially dangerous or not so that you can avoid trouble in the first place.
“Best way avoid punch; no be there” – Mr Miyagi.
Yep, another Miyagi-ism, because it’s very valid.
Women (and some smaller guys) don’t need much convincing on this idea. It’s learned from an early age to be wary of strangers while out walking, jogging, at the mall, etc… A generally smaller size and less muscle mass necessitate developing situational awareness.
Guys, on the other hand, (and again we’re dealing with generalities here), tend to be either more cavalier about their safety, OR think they’ll be seen as weak if they cross the street to avoid potential trouble (as an example).
That’s silly because if nothing else, you have no idea if that person making you uneasy is armed, or has friends lurking nearby that you can’t see. A gun, knife, swung beer bottle, or a few friends jumping in can change the complexion of a fight REALLY fast, no matter how skilled you are.
Your potential opponent(s) being drunk or stoned out of their mind is another potential problem. Such people often shrug off blows that would completely debilitate a normal person. I used an example in a previous post of a fellow Shou Shu student who was mugged and landed several strong hits to the temple and kicks to the groin with heavy boots and the attacker kept coming. They may have needed an emergency room after they sobered up, but they kept fighting.
Legalities: The Other Consideration
Awareness of your local laws and how they view self-defense is another serious consideration. It’s part of the reason I left California. They treat somebody who defends themself as just as guilty, if not more, than the actual attacker. There’s some obvious exceptions; if you’re a woman who defends herself against a man, you’re not likely to face any blowback from the police unless he’s got the crap kicked out of him and there’s not a mark on you. Even in that case, there’s still every likelihood you’ll get sued by your attacker.
Tennessee, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. As long as the officer can be reasonably sure you didn’t instigate the fight and you used reasonable force acting in self-defense, you’re golden.
Laws vary widely across the country and even across some states. If in doubt, talk to the local police or an attorney to know how far you can go.
Let’s take half a step back and revisit the term “reasonable force”. Generally speaking, this means you respond with the same level of force that’s used against you. If somebody just slaps you, it’s not reasonable to break half their bones. On the other hand, if somebody attacks you with a knife or gun, that’s considered life threatening and countering with lethal force would be seen as reasonable in most locations.
There’s an annoying double standard that comes into play here however; the more training you have, the more it’ll be expected that you can handle a situation with minimal damage to your opponent. Law Enforcement faces the same problem, with people somehow believing that their training allows them to handle any situation without having to hurt anyone unless they really want to. Rather than get sidetracked on that topic, or chatting about if comic books and Kung-Fu movies are responsible for such expectations, I’ll simply say be aware that they exist.
Why The Training is Still Worth It:
I’m sure a few of you are wondering about that after reading the above.
The training is worth it for two main reasons. First is that ANY knowledge of how to defend yourself is better than none at all. If push comes to shove and you have no choice, every bit of training increases your odds. The more the better. That’s not even getting into the secondary physical and mental health benefits of training.
Second is that self-defense training can help you carry yourself with confidence when you walk down the street. Criminals and thugs target people that look weak and scared; poor posture, avoiding eye contact, looking around nervously, etc… Those all mark you as a target just as much as wearing expensive jewelry would.
For the record, I’m NOT advising strutting down the street trying to look tough and intimidating. That just tells others you’re looking for trouble. It’ll find you also.
What I’ve adopted is a posture, body language and facial expressions that project a quiet, comfortable confidence. When you can get that vibe down; where you don’t look like either a victim or a troublemaker, you generally won’t be bothered.
Political Correctness Has No Place in Self-Defense
One other note here: I’ve seen the SJW crowd try to guilt people for crossing the street or otherwise avoiding people that make them feel uncomfortable. Charges of racism in particular get tossed around if a minority is involved. My advice? SCREW THEM.
They’re not going to rush to your defense if you’re attacked. Nowadays, society being what it is, they’re more likely to egg on the attackers while recording the attack for YouTube.
Trust your observational skills and intuition. If you’re getting a predatory look and threatening body language, it’s reasonable to avoid that person. Body language, facial expressions, eyes and just general vibe are what I pay attention to. Even how somebody dresses isn’t always an indicator. Even in the poorest neighborhoods, most folks are decent and only want to be seen as fellow human beings. It’s their demeanor, not their race or social status that should determine your reaction for good or bad.
A Final Note:
Proper training is very important in my opinion. It gives you potentially life saving skills along with the self-confidence and discipline to not use those skills unless absolutely necessary.
I trained for 17 years total, the majority of that time with styles that were NOT sport focused. Kenpo was called “Scientific Street Fighting” by Ed Parker. It teaches joint destruction and other harsh tactics, BUT also to avoid a fight whenever possible and do only enough damage to stop the threat (while still training for worst case scenarios).
Thanks in large part to my training, Ive only been in one “fight” since I started at my first dojo. That without looking or acting like a coward or a bully. All it takes is being in tune with your environment and adopting an appearance of quiet confidence.