Tuesday, October 30, 2012


"Having survival skills is important; having the will to survive is essential."
- U.S. Army Survival Guide

As I was reading the above on my way into work today, I reflected on what this might mean in the con text of martial arts training.

For many of us, especially those of us who come from the Japanese traditions, martial arts is a "do" 道 a way of life or life path.  Still others see this as a way of improving health/physical fitness, overcoming stress, or otherwise increasing the quality of their daily lives.

When it comes to survival/self defense, there are only a few things that really matter.  Probably first and foremost is your state of mind.  This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but good training without the right frame of mind will get you killed.  bad/no training with the right frame of mind will probably still save your life.

There are countless examples of people under attack that have survived because they had the right frame of mind.  Victims of rape, assault, attempted murder, multiple attackers/armed attackers, and other seemingly impossible odds have stayed alive by having the right frame of mind, not giving up, and having enough pure will to endure.

In a self-defense situation it means understanding the reality of the situation and your environment (including your attacker(s)).  It also means being savage and aggressive enough to take the initiative and keep it throughout the encounter.  It means staying focused on the goal - staying alive - to the exclusion of everything else including pain/injury, fear, squeamishness, doubt, shame, and other negative emotions.  It also means stacking the deck as heavily in your favor as possible, which is precisely what your attacker(s) will do to you.  Using the element of surprise/ambush, cover,  evasion, psychology, and environment at your disposal to increase your chances of surviving.

We spend a lot of time in the dojo learning techniques and their application and not enough time developing the mental toughness and willpower that drives success and survival under stress.  I recall helping to teach a rape prevention class many, many years ago on a college campus near Chicago where several attempted rapes had been reported.  We showed responses to common attacks including a bearhug from behind.  In this case, we showed slamming the back of the head into the attacker's face, pal-heeling the groin, stomping the foot, and then running away for help.  One co-ed saw the palm heel to the groin and squealed "I could NEVER do that!".  Really?  Then guess what darling, you're raped (or worse).

No amount of training or technical knowledge can take the place of having the right frame of mind, underpinned by an iron will to survive.  Here I am not talking about paranoia (a healthy amount of which is also important) or fear (a healthy amount of which is important).  I mean being able to apply focus to a bad situation and escape it by whatever means are necessary and available.

Good training in the dojo can help with this, but it is also up to each individual to cultivate this willpower for himself or herself.  It is a skill that goes well beyond what you would need in self-defense, and is a cornerstone of using the martial arts to make a positive difference in your life.

"without a desire to survive, acquired skills serve little purpose and invaluable knowledge goes to waste."

Be a survivor.    

1 comment:

ArneB said...

Well written, John. I think the point you make about the girl not being willing to hurt an attacker is very real. In our civilized society, we are taught “you do not hurt another being”. If all of us live by this rule, I am afraid the bad people gonna win. We have established laws (at least here in Norway) that give the police monopoly on any kind of violence for handling situations. That is a nice thought, but given todays “cop to capita ratio”, there is a very very small chance of the police being anywhere near you when you need them. At that point, the will to survive will be essential, and it is too late to start thinking about what lines you are willing to cross to come out on top. Preparing you mind for what you are willing to let your body do to protect yourself or others should be a part of all long-term self-defense training.

Your friend in training.