Friday, March 2, 2012

The Art of Living

There is often this assumption that learning an edged weapon Art equates to the ability to be able to defend yourself with one on the street, and so, because I teach sword dueling, I get inquiries about teaching 'knife defense' or 'self defense with knife'.
Sometimes this means the person is interested in learning how to defend themselves against an attacker with a knife, but more often than not it means the person wants to learn how to use a knife to defend themselves

I think that smaller folks, and women in particular understand that size and weight matter, and that they are generally at a huge disadvantage against a larger attacker trying to do them harm. Logically they then look towards the blade as a potential equalizer.
I'm guessing that the picture in their heads of how this altercation will go down, presupposes some kind of threat, which they then counter by drawing the knife and because of it, stop the attack.

Though this is possible - Sonny had stories of pulling a blade when threatened, and dissuading the attacker just by flourishing it and showing his obvious skill and ability to use it - it rarely takes into account why this attack happened, or how it probably would (with little/no time to draw a blade) ... let alone how a knife works. How lethal strikes with a blade are rarely stopping strikes in the sense that the attacker may not bleed out for a long time, or even know they are hurt. Or that a non lethal cut may, or may not, dissuade an attacker.
This picture also does not address the surprise generally associated with an assault, or the other end of the spectrum, that a knife drawn mid fight is rarely even noticed ....
It also never imagines the repercussions, legal and emotional, of taking life.

I understand all this, and I guess because of it, do not feel comfortable saying that what I teach is 'self defense'. I have actually come to believe that there are no sure or easy solutions, and though I firmly believe every person has the right to defend themselves, I leave this area to those more qualified, and willing, to address those issues directly.

Thing is, and here's the part that makes it difficult to just say 'NO' ... I think the Visayan style dueling, and the method I learned, ARE useful in self defense, just in a bigger sense - Understanding people, psychology, space, safety, threat.

Working with edged weapons is perhaps one of the only ways to bring to the fore the necessity of skills APART from strength and power (which are also necessary for self defense of course), and as an added bonus, shiny metal has a fascinating way of connecting to our 'lower brains', creating authentic emotions and reactions beneath out logical fore brain's ability to fully control.

So Visayan style dueling can help with your people watching skills, learning about human tendencies, recognizing deceit and charm, and how to play them and use them to your own benefit.
It can help you become familiar with edged weapons - replacing panic, fear, or just being blase, with respect and precision.
It can help with becoming familiar with personal freezes and tendencies, and how to focus and control them.
Working in a chaotic, fast moving, fluid, situation, it can help you learn to understand range and possibility, time and escape.

All these can help build awareness, and the physical and mental adaptability necessary to improve your odds of protecting yourself from harm, experiencing why it is best not to be there in the first place, but if so, how to create chances to get away.

That's what I think training has given me, and this, I am more than happy to pass on.

I've talked before about Sonny's first rule - Don't get hit, and perhaps how this idea has been misunderstood somewhat. But I think it is a very important piece of the thinking behind the system, and underlies all that is mounted on top, and really why his method and real life self defense have something in common.
Sonny talked about how there was no 'art' to killing, or using a knife on another person. It really involved no skill or effort, given the opportunity and right psychological head space.
He also said that there was no skill, or art, to dying ... that too was far too easy.
MUCH harder is his thinking was to get away, especially from a disadvantageous situation.
And that's really where the Art is, the Art of Getting Away - The Art of Living.


Hertao said...

Excellent post Maija.

I think you know I've long had issues with using a knife for self defense, for the reasons you mentioned and more. And I certainly understand and agree with your points regarding the difference between dueling with swords/blades and self defense.

You may not be teaching self defense exactly. But the skills the material you teach provides are the hardest necessary skills a person needs to successfully defend against a physical attack in my opinion: the ability to understand movement and manipulate distance and time, to avoid and apply force, to launch a covered attack, etc., etc.

Self defense instruction might start with 20% of material you're not teaching, but the next 80% or so is exactly what you are one form or another. So I might argue that it would be easier for you or a student of yours to pick up the 20% than many students of self defense who aren't really getting the 80% for a variety of reasons.

Jake said...

Very cool post.

I too, have a lot of issues with using a knife for self-defense. Actually, that's not true. I have an issue with people irresponsibly choosing to carry a knife for self-defense without considering the psychological, emotional, tactical, and legal issues involved with that decision.

I have no doubt that what you are teaching has some transference to the study of self-defense.

I would also argue (and I think have on here in the past) that there's nothing wrong with training for something that doesn't directly relate to self-defense. Spending a large portion of your life obsessing over the assault that may never happen can be pretty unhealthy.

Melisa Spence said...

Thanks for writing this interesting post, Maija. I wish I had time to study escrima... I am jealous of the stuff you describe here! :)

I agree with what you and other folks have written here about the aspects of your art that are very applicable to self defense. Below are some thoughts on balancing different aspects of self defense training from Girl Army's approach, that I think are similar to what you describe...

With our basic courses, we spend some time in each class discussing levels of response and practicing scenarios that begin with setting verbal boundaries. (We also don't sweat the inevitable response from students of punching the uke's head after s/he asks the time, because this is part of the process of accessing the will to fight for many folks.)

With the weapons courses, we still approach the material seriously, but with less verbal roleplay, because dealing with that element in addition to the presence of a weapon is too much material for folks to handle for hours at a time. I remember drilling gun defense scenarios in preparation for teaching the class, with my technique critiqued thoroughly each time, and melting down from the constant switching between self defense and student mindsets. So generally when I practice or teach that material, I go through it without verbal roleplay and more feedback on technique, and then go through the verbal scenarios more smoothly with less feedback.

With the multiple attacker courses, we approach the material more as physical games - more like martial arts, and particularly like teaching martial arts to children. Any adult can understand the seriousness of the material, and so we focus on drilling in the physical skills without spending as much time on the scenarios. Folks still melt down during the class, but not as hard as they otherwise would. This is where the material has more similarity to martial arts, and echoes what you and other folks on this thread have said... that there are important aspects of self defense that are just about becoming aware of and drilling in movement qualities etc. And also, that it is not necessarily healthy or possible to dwell on self defense 100% of the time when one is training physical material or studying a martial art.