Skip to content

Self Defence, Martial Arts and the Individual

Self Defence, Martial Arts and the Individual

Self defence is the instinct of all living things. The need to live and survive when attacked. It is only through the insulation of civilised comfort that we tend to ignore the reality of life and neglect the need for self defence. Forgetting that people and beasts do lurk which can do us harm. Fortunately most of us will never be in situations where we are required to defend ourselves. But that does not mean that danger does not lurk close by or in the distance. The nature of the threat is not always the brutish fiend hiding from within the shadows or a pack of wild dogs roaming with a blood lust, it can be clean cut and uniformed as well. But in some circumstances, are we even allowed to defend ourselves?

It is likely that most who are reading this live in a Western liberal democracy. Or in Western civilisation, the belief goes that certain universal rights are undisputed which is what helps to define the West. And yet, upon closer glance in many of the major nations and regions of the West, certain freedoms are absent or fragmented. The right to self defence is one such freedom. The ability to defend person and property from violent attack. From the laws of society itself to the martial arts, the industry that is often associated with self defence there exist many obstructions and deviations for the individuals pursuit in their personal protection.

The Culture In Martial Arts

When coaching martial arts it is sometimes easy to forget that hidden among the ranks of those in attendance there still are individuals who are in need of learning defence. The temptation to ignore the pure self defence applications grow over time as more students openly ignore the real origins of martial arts and are drawn to sport, hobby and fitness. It is after all assumed that any training in a martial art or combat sport will translate into self defence. The more training disregards self defence itself, then the less specific the training becomes for such situations.

Considerations for self defence are at times simplified, sport and traditional dogmas that go with martial arts are often emphasised instead. Such elements are attractive, they allow the student to climb an arbitrary ladder to be graded among their peers and within a wider community itself. The instructor can derive a comfortable income based upon this model. Individually catered self defence is often lost. How much duty does an instructor have to dedicate time to self defence for those that truly need it. In pure economics it is likely not much.

There is perhaps a disinterest by most instructors or in a more likely case an inability to teach and understand self defence. Many instructors have never been in a real fight and lack experience. They may be drawn to the pretend violence of the Dojo where much of the training and applications are academic. The training is performed in a safe place where, at times taking on a cosplay aspect of role play and make believe. This can often perpetuate the culture within the wider community and inside their own training facility, that attendance alone is enough to guarantee defence skills. A belief that the technique which works for sport or the rigid traditional art itself will help the individual in desperate moments of violence.

The belief that such techniques are ancient and proven through centuries of battlefield combat persists. Ignoring that most movements are stale and refined solely for the aesthetic of grading and stylistic value. Or that nuanced sports movements are less relevant to the diverse environments and scenarios of self defence. An over reliance on the assumption that the attributes that one does genuinely get from competition are enough in itself to ensure self defence in a struggle. Along with an apathy that the law at times dissuades the individual from wanting to pursue an independence in their ability to defend themselves.

The martial arts with its uniforms and cultural structures takes on a religious setting. It has rituals and customs that collectivise the group into a unit with a shared interest. It tends to wash away certain aspects of critical thinking and objectivity. The objectives of syllabus or specifics of the sport itself then become a shared goal, attaining rank and immersing oneself in the culture of the martial art. It is a protective bubble that can offer sanctuary for those experiencing low points in their life and it will provide an extra familiar unit that are often supportive and like minded. Sharing in an interest especially one with so many positives can become encapsulating. It can also reinforce certain beliefs. It can also deter from critical thinking and erode any of the original intentions of self defence.

Some have no idea about fighting or violence and that is why they take up a martial art. This may also include the instructor. In fact often when one attains greater rank they become removed from real violence as status and hierarchy insulates them from a need to either compete in challenge matches, MMA competition or even hard sparring. Let alone real fighting. A status above a group of ill informed, can see one generating a belief that the years, money and effort in training has some real value when it comes to self defence. It may and it may not. This is the impasse that exists between belief in accreditation versus the knowledge of experience.

Those who are deemed lower ranks and newer to the culture have no real judgement, the culture itself will weed out those who are wary and critical minded or who do not conform to the norms of the martial art. The rule structures of specific martial arts competition reinforce the doctrinal bias, confirming the aspects that is the fixation of the given combat sport. Should street fights or few rules competition be observed it will be those incidents that have techniques similar to the martial art that then go on to reinforce the supremacy and importance of the art itself. Ignoring all other examples which may show other martial arts in a similar light or even contradict the stylistic bias of a given system.

The beginning student is now surrounded by a self proclaimed expert and scores of like minded individuals who also confirm that expertise, so they will know no better other than to continue to adopt the dogmas and biases. Otherwise they leave. The self defence if it exists may be tacked on as an after thought to satisfy the wider criteria of affiliation or because it may genuinely be an interest of the instructor. And at times because fewer students are interested in self defence, the instructor dedicates less time to it in order to pay the bills. Martial art like most other fitness related industries is very much trend based and self defence has not been a trend for sometime.

The Individual vs Government Contracts

For some of the more self defence minded instructors, creating systems and programs for police and military is a crucial aspect of their business. Most martial arts have their origins in a need from the state to rationalise close combat and unarmed skills for their soldiers and police. A lot modern traditional martial arts were created in the late 19th century and through the 20th century to satisfy nationalism and militarism. In some cases this was the only way for the martial arts to survive. In more recent times a common boasting point is the macho claim that the system or martial art is used by a certain military.

We now live in a World of near instant access to media and where the borders of nations can be digitally open to individuals. The trans nationalism of social media ensures that events that occur in one nation can effect those in another, and the self defence community is itself without borders. More martial arts instructors look to win contracts with local authorities and those abroad, through seminars and programs. The mobile phone has allowed almost instant access to what was in the past done without witness, incidents of violence that support the actions of the authorities and acts that bring them into question. Bearing distant witness can create a variety of perspectives often based on ones loyalties, bias and opinions. Many leading martial arts experts often look to the authorities actions, and showcase better methods that would have improved the situation. The incidents are used as marketing and teaching moments for some, even when the agents of the state may be clearly in the wrong.

The experts focus is on the state agents actions, always assuming that the authority figures are in the right and have justice in mind. The default is that the uniformed aggressor is the morally positive party. Regardless of the individuals involved and often regardless of the regime that they serve. Even in cases of one sided beatings few self defence experts stand up to suggest what the beaten victim should or could do. It is a defence that defies their professional interest and likely own personal bias.

The internationalising of martial arts instruction sees experts being employed the world over helping military’s and police that have nefarious human rights records. The agents that they train will use those methods for tyranny. As is often shown. That is also assuming that State agents closer to home will not in time use their training to make life less free and liberal for the individual. It is easy to be seduced by the uniforms and hefty contracts that such work provides but the wider consequences to individual liberty are ever present. If that is at all a consideration given that many are mercenary minded in the first place. It should always be a consideration.

Not all individuals being arrested are righteous, and not all are evil. Unfortunately the appeal to authority and a growing police state has created a stigma that the State and its enforcers are incorruptible and always pursuing justice. In many places and cases, this is not true. There is a disturbing imbalance in championing the rights of the individual to protect themselves from State agents. For those teaching self defence and advocating it, they near always fall in the default position that the agents of the State are in the right and require their support in training. With the training being focused in taking away individual liberty and not protecting it.

It is the prevailing assumption that might is always right and that the State authorities so long as they perform their duties in public with minimal brutality, that the apprehended will face fair justice. Not all governments are the same, and not all remain the same. Despite this there is an over eagerness to train any body in a uniform, regardless of the long term risk that these bodies pose to others liberty.

What of Honour?

Contrary to the traditional depictions of martial arts. some do take up training to ensure that they have better skills to bully and harm. Rapists have put their grappling skills to vile use against their victims and many who hold rank in the martial arts have been bullies. Such training can when inflicted upon generally physically weaker and untrained individuals be used to strip dignity and injrue. Is the more numbers through the door approach always best for an instructor? Or is reviewing those that train more crucial to prevent unintended consequences or empowering jerks and bullies. Is reputation, principle and justice not more important than mere monetary gains? Again it is for consideration for those who care.

The martial arts generally wraps itself in ancient myths and uses words like loyalty, discipline and honour. Such words lose any meaning when they are stripped down, loyalty usually means obedience. The assumption that the student will not train elsewhere and will defend the martial art and club with slavish adherence. Discipline is usually more akin to the parade ground thinking of forced rituals, like bowing and wearing the uniform a certain way. Over the self discipline of training on your own, being mindful of your health and hygiene and not injuring your training partners through reckless actions or ego. Or the discipline to stay home when sick and to turn up with a dedication.

Honour has a spiritual meaning for some. Honour for what? How far removed from ego and pride does this word belong? Honour to fight and meet a challenge? Honour to do what is right? Well is it honourable to profit in training those who may do harm? Is it honourable to train in a martial art and pretend that you are some human Jedi only to put on the uniform of the storm trooper? Honour is a word. It is washed in the blood and tears of its victims. People speak of honour as they conduct themselves in brutal and dishonourable ways. Martial arts like many military enshrined training is obsessed with the word honour but it is often ill defined in action.

The Right of the Individual

Self defence is the right of the individual. Whether that is in defending themselves from bullies at school, a rapist or a mob of state agents enforcing immoral laws. The trouble is, though they do not acknowledge it some experts and martial arts instructors lean on the side of the doers of harm. There is no consideration for what an individual should do in their own defence as armed agents beat and hold them down. Told not to resist as they are beaten, dignity and sometimes their life is taken away. Before the often indifferent public. Where is the self defence training and consideration for that individual?

In some jurisdictions the individual is not allowed to defend themselves in any reasonable way. They are expected to consider what is allowable while locked inside moments of life threatening circumstances. Those bringing violence to others do not consider the consequences of their conduct. Their victims, often physically weaker, have to consider what they are allowed to do. The victim has to consider what they can use that is at hand or just what is the appropriate amount of violence is allowable in order to save their or a loved ones life. The solution that is lazily offered is that the victim can contact the police. This is the outsourced simplicity that anyone who has never been at risk can offer. For a slight woman who is being hunted by a deranged man, steel and lead is often the great equaliser. The police, if they come at all, tend to be a long time arriving. And yet she is told in many regions that she has no right to be armed in her own defence.

The particular kind of predator that hunts women does so with a malicious and vile intent in mind. A victim’s ability to deter and threaten the attacker in the pre stage is crucial. And yet threatening with a deadly weapon can be considered more of a crime than rape itself. Can that victim carry and possess a weapon with the sole intention of defending themselves or their family? Again this is allowable in some regions. Whereas in others it is strongly deterred. In such a case one is truly powerless beneath authority. The expectation that authority has dominion over ones rights to self defence is a belief of great consequences. The individual has a mandated reliance on authority in moments of life and death. It is often an academic consideration for those who are not living in fear or who have not lived through violent trauma, to expect victims to be dependent on a public service. To the authority it is simply a profession absent of morality or in considering the dignity of others. It is also about disarming individuals before the authority itself.

Self defence should be the core of martial arts and in many ways to combat sports. The fitness, community, hobby and well being aspects all should be secondary factors. The competition and athleticism of combat sports are integral, but so is defending yourself at all times. Whether during the competition when the opponent may attack you outside of the rules or in the wider world. Self defence and martial art skills are not just for those looking to impose themselves on others. It should be for the under dog, those who want to live and be free. To be left alone. Those who have done no wrong or harmed no one and yet find themselves the victim of either deranged minded beings or well paid agents of violence. It is your mind and body, in time you lose them both. So protect them while you can. That SHOULD be your right.

Kym Robinson

March 2021

Published inAll Articles and EssaysCombat Sports and FightingPhilosophy, Society and Liberty