Be Prepared To Fight For Your Life

When the Publisher of Canadian Martial Arts Magazine first approached me to write a continuing column on self-defense, I was, to say the least, pleased to do so. However, as I sat at my desk, staring intently at the blank screen on my word processor, fingers poised to pound out vast amounts of profound information, little beads of sweat began to well up on my forehead. My spine began to decalcify, and my fingers curled into hard white-knuckled fists. Everything I had ever learned and taught was bouncing around my brain like an exploding tennis ball factory. Where to begin?

My apprehension sprung from having discovered over the past two thirds of my life, that discussing self-defense is just about par with discussing religion and politics. Everyone has an opinion and a method. For some, visions of Chuck Norris flying across the silver screen come to mind. This is hardly the truth.

As I write this, accused sex slayer Paul Bernardo, now known as Paul Teale, faces three more charges related to the sexual assaults of 17 victims in the Southern Ontario area, bringing the total to 46. He also faces nine charges in the sex slaying of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. His estranged wife, Karla, was earlier convicted of two counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison.

I want you to take a moment and think about what you do for a living. Do you have a hobby? Have you been doing it long? Are you good at it?

Now consider this; if a person can sexually assault 17 victims over a span of only a few years, and savagely murder two teenage girls over that period of time, can you imagine just how good that person is at what he does?

As a practicing martial artist, you trust and believe in your particular style. And that's fine. You practice with unwavering faith, your forms, two and three step sparring drills, free-style non-contact sparring and of course your self-defense techniques. You practice twisting a compliant partner's arm into something that looks like it belongs in a Saturday morning cartoon. That's fine, but are you learning how to fight?

The ‘F' word!

Just what do you think you would have to do to get a serial rapist-murderer off you? Do you think slapping his face would do it? Do you think you could affect a wristlock on such a seething animal? I don't think so. I think you would have to punch, scream, scratch, and kick, spit, bite and fight, fight, fight!

Unfortunately however, the word ‘fight' conjures up all sorts of nasty things in the minds of everyday ‘civilized' people. As a society that is becoming increasingly fearful of random violence, we instinctively move to our comfort zone, locking our doors and building entrances, choosing to hide away. We really don't want to think about ever actually having to face a violent attacker on a darkened street or in our homes.

But what about those of us that decide not to be a victim? What is it we do to sooth our anxieties? Will we dress up in a freshly-washed, neatly-pressed uniform, and go through the motions of what are perceived to be combative situations against other consenting parties, all the while tricking ourselves into believing what we're doing is based on some degree of reality? We acquire a few skills, and a false sense of security sets in.

Now don't get me wrong. I personally know many people who can affect a wristlock faster than you can ask them not to. I also know several people that can actually defend themselves by tying you up in knots and toss you around a room like a rag-doll. But these people have made martial arts their lifelong commitment. They're no longer in the martial arts. The martial arts are in them. It's a state of mind – an attitude.

There are three basic qualities I believe necessary to achieve great success in absolutely every endeavor in life whether it be a mathematics exam or the world heavyweight boxing title. They are physical ability, knowledge and attitude. Of these, attitude is most important. With the proper attitude, physical skill and knowledge will surely follow. Attitude is the fuel that puts the fire behind your punch, and the tiger in your eye to take one back. Even the most heavily armed Air Force fighter jet is useless without fueling it first. You punch with your heart. Your fist is just the tool.

Simply put, self-defense is the violent application of an offensive attitude employing physical means. Anything less, and you're toast!

A big part of becoming a self-defense ‘expert' is learning to think like one. Knowing when to fight, and when not to, is perhaps one of the greatest skills you can learn. For instance, fighting against someone who's using any kind of deadly weapon, in most cases, is absolutely foolish. But that decision will be yours, and yours alone, depending entirely on the situation at hand.

Perhaps the greatest skill you can learn is one of total awareness. Knowing your environment and what goes on around you at all time. You must never allow complacency, the ‘it will never happen to me' syndrome to blind your judgment. And I cannot stress enough that this is definitely not a defensive attitude. This is an attitude on the offensive!

Think: Has your instructor ever used the technique he's teaching you in a real combative situation, or is he teaching it to you and telling you it works because someone taught it to him and told him it does? Are the techniques you practice over and over again, and the energy and attitude you put into them, suitable to a real-life violent situation? If not, and if self-defense was your original aim, why are you wasting your time?

Next time I'll discuss what happens to some 15,000 Canadians each and every year, and offer some tips that might help prevent it from ever happening to you.

Until next time, keep the attitude!

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