by Van Canna, Kyoshi
When each of us began to study karate, I am sure that one of the stronger motivations was to develop and cultivate the ability of self defense. Today if we were to question each student at any rank level as to their reasons why they continue to study karate, most of them would not admit that one of the strong motivating factors was self defense. I believe the reason for this is that we are all uncomfortable with mind images of ugly and violent confrontations; serious crippling injuries and or death and blows to self esteem if we are not able to successfully cope with the situation.
As a student progresses through the ranks, his confidence builds momentum in so far as potential responses to violent attacks, but I venture to say that a very insidious self doubt still persists as to his ultimate victory or even survival in a violent confrontation. One of the reasons for this self-doubt is that the ways we practice martial arts today we do not carry the fight through once the violent encounter gets beyond, or closer than, a certain point. We are functioning on the assumption that a well-placed kick or punch or whatever other karate technique we are being taught, will deal a final “Hammer of Thor” blow to the assailant, quickly ending the fight. Unfortunately and realistically, this is not always the case. On a physical level we must realize that we have certain weaknesses and limitations.
In spite of assiduous years of training, well-intentioned defensive blows might not have the desired or programed effect on an attacker. This is especially true if he is build like a football player or if he is heavy with natural padding. . . or that he is simply tough and mean!
I believe that on a psychological level, we all concede to the possibility that, once a confrontation begins, we will escape it untouched. When in the dojo wearing a uniform and a black belt, are among friends and are operating in a controlled situation, we are not crippled by negative emotions and are therefore capable of executing very skillful and powerful defensive techniques that bolster our confidence. However, picture yourself dressed up and all alone on a dark street at night, wearing street shoes that restricts your movements to a certain extent. It is easy to imagine that in a real situation your first reaction will undoubtedly be one of fear.
At this point there are a number of mental images coming into your head that you’ve never really had to deal with before while in the sanctity of the dojo. For example, in spite of your status as a karate practitioner, there is a very good possibility that you may be killed by a weapon or you might wind up with brain damage or fractures that will leave you paralyzed or a vegetable.
We should practice bringing these images to mind more often so we can deal with them and begin our mental preparation for survival. Some victims of beatings have sustained terrifying injuries, including exploded kidneys, disemboweled intestines and other ruptured organs. Some are now plugged into life support systems for the remainder of their lives. In addition, some of these injuries have resulted in such mental shock that a person is no longer able to function as a normal human being.
In is perfectly normal to experience fear before a potentially violent confrontation, but at times this fear brings on a paralyzing effect. A moment of indecision, linked to the flight or fight syndrome while all at the same time certain subtle changes are taking place within your body preparing you for some kind of response. If you allow total fear to overcome you, you will not be able to move fast, your mind will not be sharp and physical responses will lack power, accuracy and determination. A churning stomach and shaky knees will add to your discomfort. These are perfectly normal human responses and there is no shame in exposing them so we may understand them and eventually learn to control them.
You would do well to realize from the very beginning that even if you do not sustain a very serious injury, you will probably be hit hard and experience severe physical discomfort. The next question to deal with is what will you do when the fight begins. What will be your response both mentally and physically.
To be sure, I have read somewhere that most human beings are capable of being a hero but that at other times discretion is the better part of valor. If you are overwhelmed by the odds, you should retreat so that you may survive to fight another day. Keep in mind that your first obligation to yourself is to survive at all costs and not to win the fight. This is especially true if you find yourself in a confrontation when you have loved ones with you. Another thing to remember is that the very basic rule of violent encounters is that there is no such thing as a fair fight. If you choose to respond physically you must realize that you are now into a serious fight and that you better do something very quickly to come out of it in one piece.
I’ve talked to a large number of people involved in serious fights and I have been involved in a few myself. I can tell you in spite of your best intentions, your gallant effort in responding with effective karate techniques, just does not work all the time. You are still locked in a paralyzing moment out of fear and indecision. Your first response or timing may be off, or you may completely miss the target or hit a well-padded area of your assailant so that your response does not take immediate effect.
At this point it should dawn on you that the confrontation has degenerated into an extremely close quarter and grappling situation. The question now is whether you will be successful in prevailing with your conventional close quarter fighting techniques, particularly if you are in pain from counterattacks or if your assailant is bigger and stronger than you are. Once you have become aware of these particular mental and physical scenarios, you will do well to think in terms of dealing with the problem. Start developing a winning attitude, both physically and mentally.
There is nothing wrong with fear, as long as you don’t allow it to paralyze your emotions and actions. Experts in this matter say that you should use fear to your advantage by channeling it into controlled anger against your attacker.
You can survive and win if you are tough. Anyone can be tough if they believe they are tough, and part of the toughness means not to let pain from injuries destroy your will to fight and gaining control of the situation. In addition, if you respond with explosive counterattacks, you will completely surprise your assailant because most likely he is not expecting resistance from you. Also the display of an attitude that projects strength and decisiveness is very important to cultivate and in a great number of cases is enough to prevent a fight from even beginning. Just as in a tough sparring match, in most physical encounters there will be a few moments of sizing up the opposition. You’ll do it and so will the potential assailant. You must then put a determined look in your eyes and project the impression that: “Well if you’re pushing me into a fight, here I am and I am going to do anything necessary to survive.”
Take a strong physical posture and be prepared to tough it out until the end. Strike back in a ruthless manner without holding back and follow through until you see the attacker is incapable of further action against you. You will do well to develop some of the awareness principles outlined above and most important, work on developing some serious “stopping power” in your physical techniques.
Van Canna is a 7th degree black belt and Kyoshi in the Uechi-ryu Karate Association.