Showing posts with label self-defense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-defense. Show all posts

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Martial Arts Lessons and Character

Self defense
Self discipline
Self confidence
Self respect

Google “martial arts advertising” and you’ll find a limitless supply of advertisements proclaiming that martial arts practice teaches these. They are good things. I certainly won’t dispute that developing good self defense skills, self discipline, self confidence, and self respect is good for anyone.

Yes, self defense skills are wonderful. No one is going to argue that self discipline isn’t important. Self confidence and self respect are both awesome. All of these traits are drilled and reinforced by martial arts practice. My concern is that I’ve encountered too many martial artists who haven’t developed these things in a healthy, balanced manner. What happens when things get out of balance?

Learning self defense by training in martial arts seems redundant, but it has to be addressed. Everyone who trains for a while will run into people who have learned this lesson badly. These are the guys who develop some skill but never quite learn when and where to apply the skills.  They have self defense skills, and perhaps self respect, but they haven’t learned to respect others, and it shows in how they use their skills. They can be seen subtly, and not so subtly, bullying the people they train with, making strikes and throws harder and more brutal than necessary. They use the implied threat of their skills to intimidate their training partners and the people they deal with in and out of the dojo. Hardly the ideal of what self defense training should develop into.

Self confidence is often what gives us the courage to attempt something new or to go into something that isn’t a sure bet. Having it means not hesitating to do little things.  Being self-confident means being willing to take risks, even if the main risk is to our ego. It’s amazing how often the biggest thing being risked is our ego or a little personal embarrassment, and that risk is too great. Healthy self-confidence includes being able to take those risks and be ok with the results whether you succeed or fail.  Where self-confidence fails us is when we have too much of it. Think of all the arrogant jerks who really believe they can do no wrong in the dojo. Where do they get it? Where is this arrogance learned?

Self discipline is a wonderful trait, and I often wish I had more of it. I’ve seen what can happen when when you have a good stock of this. I’ve also seen people get too disciplined. That guy in the dojo who wants to make it into a lower weight division who diets to an unhealthy level while bragging about how his self-discipline helps him do it. Or the woman who trains day in and day out without taking a break, never giving her body time to rest and recover, even when she’s injured. There’s self-discipline, but it isn’t leavened by any wisdom.
Self-respect is wonderful. It’s the healthy recognition of our own value as human beings. That knowledge gives us the mental strength to not be destroyed by every bit of criticism. Even more, it braces us against the pressure that comes from all sides of society to change or do things just so other people will like us. Without self-respect, we can be talked into all sorts of things because those around us want us to do something. Peers can push us to dress in a certain way, behave badly, they can even convince us to be disrespectful to one person in order to impress another. Self-respect though has to be balanced with respect for those around us, or you’re just a jerk.

Most of the advertisements I run across seem to be aimed at parents, but there are plenty of adults who would like to have self-defense skills and improved self-confidence and self-respect. Martial arts training, without question, should make us better at some sort of combat, but the other stuff? How does learning to fight really improve general self-confidence, or self-respect, or self-discipline? Frankly, does the combat training really improve self-defense skills, or does it teach something else?

Beautiful handmade weapons bags

Martial arts are often taught in a style that I don’t think will do too much for developing any of the character traits advertised. How does standing in rows repeating techniques develop personality traits? Even practicing techniques and skills with partners won’t necessarily teach anything but the techniques. It’s even quite possible to learn bad lessons that develop poor character from working with partners.

Training with partners, you’re likely to learn what sort of character your partners have. Someone who has learned to boost his own self-confidence by abusing less skilled partners will abuse you. He’ll make the pin too hard or crank the joint lock a couple degrees further than is really necessary or throw you hard while doing nothing to take the sting out of the fall. This is certainly not the way to learn how to respect your partner, much less yourself.

If the teacher is arrogant and disrespectful of his students, then the students will learn to be arrogant and disrespectful to those around them. Even if the teacher is not arrogant or disrespectful, if he permits seniors to be arrogant and disrespectful towards more junior students, the students learn that arrogance and disrespect are acceptable.

In classes where students are not treated with respect by teachers, there is no reason to expect the students to learn self-confidence or respect. A self-confident teacher isn’t afraid to make a mistake or be wrong. That’s what her self-confidence is all about. A teacher who has confidence in herself, and respects herself, will give students individual respect and the room to develop self-confidence.

There are far too many ways a teacher can give students lessons in poor character, and sadly there are far too many people with less than wonderful character teaching martial arts. Martial arts practiced in such a way teach students the physical aspects of the art without learning anything about character or maturity. Teachers can be arrogant and teach that anyone who isn’t good enough should be ridiculed. Students who ask difficult questions can be treated with condescension.  Everyone can be abused, and only those who suffer the abuse without complaint or cry can be called worthy. When I think about it, it’s as if there are more ways to teach martial arts badly than to do it well.

There is a delicate balance. How do we teach self-defense without teaching how to bully and abuse?  How do we teach confidence without teaching arrogance? How do we teach students to value others while we are teaching them to value themselves? How do we teach confidence without shading over into cockiness?

Martial arts studios, dojo, and dojang, have to make time to emphasize something other than the raw violence of what we train. In the judo dojo that I love to be in, the reminders for safety and mutual concern and respect between partners are as frequent a part of the discourse as are the suggestions for improving throws and joint locks. No one is going to learn a lesson that isn’t being taught. If a martial arts school advertises that they teach self-defense, self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask “How do you teach that?”  

Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung are always making the point that self-defense is a legal concept, and that if you don’t know what constitutes self-defense legally, you can put yourself in all kinds of trouble. If the school claims to teach self-defense, do they teach anything about appropriate response and the complexity of the situation, or do they default to cheap slogans like “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six”?  Does the school spend time emphasizing how rare the use of force should be and what might appropriately call for it, or do they throw out techniques and let students figure it out for themselves?

When a school says it teaches self-discipline, do they teach self-discipline or just discipline? Self-discipline is about being able to focus and do something on your own. Does the school give students time to work on things on their own, or is every moment scheduled and directed and driven by a teacher? Unless students have time on their own, they’ll never learn how to direct and discipline themselves. No one can learn self-discipline while external discipline is locked down tight. Students need room to develop their internal self as well as the cool physical skills.

How does the school teach self-respect? Or more importantly to me, do they teach respect for self and others? Do the teachers and senior students model respect and treat everyone with respect? Or do they belittle and abuse anyone below them in the hierarchy? Are students treated with appropriate praise and legitimate criticism or are they yelled at and demeaned when they make a mistake?

Self-respect and self-confidence are closely aligned. Do students have the opportunity to work on goals without the constant pushing and driving of instructors and fellow students? Do students have the opportunity to fail? Real self-confidence comes from knowing you can do things yourself, not that you can be moved along a track with others as long as you pay the monthly dues and the test fee. It’s not until we’ve experienced some failure and kept on going that our self-confidence and self-respect become genuine and deep. If the bar is set so everyone always passes, or if students don’t have the chance to fail, they won’t develop genuine self-confidence or self-respect. At best they’ll have the illusion of it, which will be fine until something happens to put stress on that confidence and respect, and then it will shatter.  Genuine self-confidence can handle the setbacks. Genuine self-respect won’t be damaged by what comes from outside because it has the depth to absorb the damage that life inflicts.

If the school isn’t actively working at teaching these lessons, it probably isn’t teaching them passively either. Despite the myths and legends, good character is not an automatic byproduct of martial arts training.  Advertising is nice, but what do students really learn in martial arts class?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rory Miller on Training Costs and Why You Should Train

I love Rory Miller's stuff, and recommend to everyone without reservation.  He is pretty much the complete artist.  He has a judo background, does some wonderful koryu budo, 17 years in corrections work, plus lots of other stuff.  I get something out of everything he writes.  And this time he wrote something that I agree with a lot.  A while back, I wrote a blog asking "Is Martial Arts Training For Self-Defense A Good Idea?"  Now Rory Miller has taken a crack at the subject, and I love the way he answers the question.  His post is on his Chiron Training blog, and is just titled "For Love"   Go read it. And then read some of his other stuff.  It's all worthwhile.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What is Self-Defense? A Reality Check.

Some genius named Sam Harris got together Steven Graff Levine (former California DA and now a defense attorny), Rory Miller (former National Guard, 14 year prison guard, 18 months in Iraq advising the prison system, modern and classical martial arts), Matt Thorton (BJJ and MMA coach), to talk about what really qualifies as self-defense under the law, when it is legal to defend yourself, and when it is not.

One of the big take-aways should be that if you are in a situation that escalates into a fight, and then you do something causing serious damage or death, it wasn't self-defense, it was a crime.

This is really should be required reading for anyone who carries a weapon (knife, club or firearm) or who trains in martial arts.  Don't fool yourself about what qualifies as self-defense.  You might just fool yourself into prison.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is Martial Arts Training For Self-defense Really A Good Idea?

It has occurred to me that practicing martial arts for self-defense is not that sensible an idea.  On the surface, it makes a lot of sense.  I mean, train in the martial arts and you learn great skills for fighting and you can protect yourself if you are attacked.  And yes, I have read the anecdotes of people who have used martial arts for self-defense.  In addition, I’ve been training in various martial arts for over 25 years, during which time I have touted the arts I train in as wonderful forms of self-defense.

Lately though, I’ve been reconsidering the equation.  I can use martial arts to defend myself if I am ever attacked.  This may help me avoid injury and losing personal property.  These are both laudable things.  The odds of my ever being in a situation where I will need these skills however is small.  It is even smaller if I take very sound and excellent advice of Marc MacYoung at No Nonsense Self Defense and simply avoid areas where violence is likely.  Since the vast majority of violent crime happens in very concentrated areas this shouldn’t be difficult.  

Basically, the odds of being injured and/or losing property in an attack are really small if I avoid dangerous areas.  OK, but I still think self-defense training might be a good idea.

Let’s see, martial arts classes run anywhere from $50 to $150 per month.  That’s $600 to $1800 a year in most cases.  Since, in my experience, you need to practice techniques regularly for them to be effective when you need them, basically you are going to be paying this as long as you want your skills to be effective.  So over 10 years you will pay $6,000 to $18,000 just for the training.  That doesn’t include the cost of any uniforms and equipment you might need.  If you go on for 20 years you’re at $12,000 to $36,000.  Now you are way over what you can expect to lose in some sort of robbery of your person.  I know never carry anything close to that in cash and valuables.  About the only way you could steal anything close to that much from me is to take my car, and that’s insured, so fighting for it would be a stupid risk..  Besides, in 2002 the rate of carjackings in the US was 2.1 per 10,000 people.  That’s 0.02% chance of being carjacked.  Add to that that carjackings are most common in particular, known and generally lousy neighborhoods where I don’t go and the odds get even less likely.

Ok, so maybe martial arts training isn’t a cost effective way to protect my property.  What about protecting myself?

I can guarantee one thing that will happen if you practice martial arts.  You’re going to get injured.  It will happen.  It’s the nature of what you’re doing.  Just like football, in martial arts practice people bang into each other and the ground, so from time to time people get hurt.  It’s going to happen, and just like in football, it’s a known and accepted part of what goes on.  Every person, EVERY PERSON, I know who has trained martial arts such as Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Jujutsu, Hapkido or any other vigorous, useful martial art, has been injured.  The longer we train, the more injuries we accumulate.  In my more than 25 years in Judo I have broken a collar bone, cracked several ribs, sprained my ankles a few times, hyperextended my elbow, torn my ACL completely, and accumulated more bumps, bruises, strained  and pulled muscles, torqued joints and other assorted injuries than can possibly be remembered.  This list, or something like it, some with worse injuries, some not quite so severe, can be rattled off by anyone who practices a martial art for any length of time.  If you insist on a practicing an activity that has lots of hard contact you will be injured.  Not a question of if, just when.

So wait a minute.  If I study martial arts for self-defense, but I keep getting injured studying martial arts, have I really gained anything?  Lets see.  Someday I might be violently attacked and injured. OK. That’s bad. If I train in martial arts, I am certain to be injured repeatedly.  Um, let me think about that.  I might be a victim of a violent crime someday, but if I train in martial arts to defend myself I am certain to be injured repeatedly as long as I continue to train.

Somehow this doesn’t make training in martial arts seem very sensible.  There is a small chance I will be a victim of crime at some point in my lifetime.  During such a crime I could lose personal property and may be seriously injured or even killed.  If I train in martial arts, the cost will be tens of thousands of dollars over my lifetime (far more than could ever be stolen from me by anyone other than a banker or a hacker), and I am guaranteed to get injured over and over.

Dang.  It’s a good thing I don’t do this stuff for self-defense.  The cost-to-benefit ratio for training in the martial arts for self-defense is so bad I’d have to quit.  Fortunately I train in the martial arts because I love the training and the arts for what the teach about all sorts of things that have little to do with self-defense.

I didn’t write this to knock martial arts for self-defense.  I believe they can have immense value, but this value is not easily quantifiable in dollars and cents.  How do you quantify the feeling of security and confidence that training can impart?  That’s a tough one, especially when it is so different for everyone.  

I do know that with a little discretion about where you go, what you do and how you behave, most men don’t really need self-defense training.  Stay away from places known for fights and violence, and your odds of needing to defend yourself go way down.  Detroit is known as an incredibly dangerous place, but even there most of the violence is concentrated in a few really awful neighborhoods.  I love going to Detroit for shows and food and cultural activities, but I know enough to avoid areas of the city where violence is not uncommon.  This strategy works great for men.
Women have a whole different paradigm to deal with.  Women have to deal with men, and the do so from a position of being smaller and weaker.  The statistics for violence against women are much higher than those for men.  In one subset, 5 times as high.  For women, martial arts training can be exceptionally valuable.  Not that there is any particular style of system, but that they learn that it’s ok to fight, they should fight, and that they can do so effectively.  Any reasonable martial arts system can do these things, and the effect on their lives can be far wider than just knowing how to fight back if assaulted.   it can translate into being treated with greater respect everywhere in their life, because they don’t accept intimidation from anyone.  That alone might be worth the monetary and physical costs of training.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Do we know what "self-defense" really means

Most of the techniques we teach in budo, whether it is karate or judo or aikido or anything else, are not simply dangerous.  They are extremely violent.  Many of our students want to learn budo for self-defense.  For a long time I didn’t think about the meaning of self-defense.  The term was thrown around so much everyone in the dojo just assumed we knew what it meant.  I’m quickly coming to realize that I don’t have a clear enough understanding of what self-defense means legally to be sure I won’t get myself in trouble if I’m ever in a situation where knowledge of exactly where the line is drawn is important.

I’ve been doing a little bit of reading by a couple of different writers and one term that comes up is “the Monkey Dance”.  This is used to refer to the social dance that revolves around social violence, which usually falls outside the circle that includes self-defense.  Part of learning the skills of combat, is learning when it is appropriate to use them and when it isn’t.

I’ve heard too many people say “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”  This seems to demonstrate a willful ignorance of the law.  If you know the law, it’s not too hard to figure out what the appropriate response is.  If you don’t know the law, you’re likely to get yourself in a lot of trouble.  Even the military has rules of engagement.  

The best resources I’ve found so far for understanding the rules we operate under are

Teaching budo means we are teaching skills that people can apply in life.  If we teach these skills, we have the responsibility to teach people when it is ok to use them, and when using their skills could land them in jail.