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Martial Arts Training for Real Self-Defense: Making Sense of Chaos

Jeffrey Miller
Aug 17, 2007
I once had a talk with a student who pointed out the almost insane notion that anyone could think that they could use a preset string of moves (known as a kata, pronounced kah-tah) to handle something as chaotic as a fight. He said it made no sense to him how any master, who really knew what he was talking about, could pass down "the answer" to such an unknown as a fight.

He's right. And yet, day after day, in countless schools, training centers, police departments, and military units around the world, there are those who believe that what they are learning will be exactly what they need to win, should they ever be attacked.

Can you imagine, for those of you who have yet to be accosted, what it feels like inside the heart of an attack? I mean, what do you know about the situation that you haven't been in yet?

Unless you're clairvoyant and can see into the future - in which case you wouldn't need self-defense training because you would either...

1) know what to avoid, or...

2) know you weren't going to survive -

There is a plethora of things that you don't, and can't possibly, know about this situation that hasn't happened yet. Things like:

A) Where you will be attacked (parking lot, building, your car, at-home in-bed, etc.)

B) Who your attacker will be

C) How many assailant's you will face

D) Whether or not there are any weapons involved (and what type, if any)

E) How you will be attacked

F) What you'll be wearing or carrying that could help or hinder you, and...

G) Much, much more!

So, how can anyone think that a preset string of moves will be of any use to them in an actual, real-world, attack? Better still, why would they have been passed down for hundreds of years if they couldn't help?

Well, the short of it, based on my own research, is this. There are two schools of thought when it comes to answering this question. The first is the idea that says...

..."we must make sure that warriors have a way to practice during periods of peace so that they'll be ready for the next war. So, what we'll do is string some basics together in a way that they can rely on repetitive practice to stay ready."

The other so-called "school-of-thought" said, "Let's look at the most common attacks that we, with our current set of circumstances, will have to deal with. Then, we'll design a set of example techniques - "fight-scenarios if-you-will - that contain the essence or idea of what could be done in a situation like that. We'll convey the principles and concepts through techniques that are not so-much "set-in-stone" as they are representations of these principles in action."

One school recognized the need to practice the basic mechanics - the "brand" of punching, kicking, etc. (the "secrets") - of their art when there wasn't a war going on. In fact, most schools of training in Japan are still passed on this way. The school allows the student's own intuitive and perceptual powers to determine his or her own level of understanding.

However, for many of these martial systems, the techniques ARE the art. That means that they represent that which makes a particular lineage's techniques and "style" unique among all others. It is not generally acceptable to change the techniques for any reason, as in the case of my friend that I talked about earlier.

The other school recognized that there is an infinite number of combinations if we were to just focus on the mechanics alone. They also recognized that "what" you do is not nearly as important as "when", "why," "how," and under what circumstances you would do anything. Granted, this was more difficult to understand than the basic step-by-step method (which this school DID employ by-the-way), but the idea was that, the principles were much more important than the techniques if one were to win in a conflict.

While the step-by-step, preset model approach does teach students how to apply techniques, from my perspective and experience with having to deal with violent attackers in real-world self-defense situations, it is the later approach - the focus on workable principles and concepts for controlling the situation - that provides the real keys to mastery.

But, it's not martial arts mastery - the mastery of technique - that I'm talking about. But rather the ability to master and control...

Your Environment

Your Attacker's Perceptions

The Space and Distance within the fight

The Assailant's Options

And much Much MORE!

...that allows you to control the very flow of the situation, from moment-to-moment, as it unfolds.

It is this grander-view of the reality of the situation that allows the true martial arts master - the strategic warrior commander, to see beyond the mere punching, kicking, or slashing of the attacker. It is the view that allows us to make sense out of the chaos that is a fight and...

...appear to be magicians and wizards to others with less understanding of the workings of nature and the enlightened wisdom of the trained martial master.
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