Saturday, October 06, 2012

Thoughts on Combat, Martial Arts, and Self-Defense

Like most people, the initial concepts or ideas I had about martial arts and self-defense are derived from movies and TV shows I’ve watched since I was a kid.  I’ve always been deeply impressed by how knowing some martial arts is some sort of super power.  Here’s a kid who has been bullied all his life.  Fresh from suffering a recent humiliation from the hands of the bullies, he meets a wizened Asian geezer who happens to know martial arts.  The kid managed to convince the old man to teach him martial arts, and after a few sessions summarized by a montage, the kid becomes a “black belt”.  Later, the kid confronts his tormentors, and beat them all up at the same time.  With martial arts, you will be able to neutralize threats – regardless of extent or quantity – with your bare hands gracefully and efficiently.  Martial arts are the best tool for combat and self-defense.  Yes, all of these things are what pop culture taught us.   

But as I grow older, with increased common sense and experience, and learn more and more about the reality of combat, I discovered that most philosophies and ideas I had before about the matter are bullshit.  Real-life combat isn’t gracefully choreographed as it is portrayed in the movies.  Real-life combat is brutal and ugly.  Anything goes, and anything can happen.  Being a black belt doesn’t always translate into being a proficient combatant.  And becoming a skillful fighter requires hard, laborious, and intense training; not through a few lessons from a random Asian guy while “Eye of the Tiger” is playing the background. 

Most martial arts schools out there won’t really make you a fighting machine.  Yes, you might learn how to kick, punch, and a neat trick or two, but don’t ever mistake that these are enough to make you a badass that can take down a group of muggers all at once (In fact, if that martial arts school is actually legit, it would even advice you to just give those goons your money to prevent yourself from getting harmed.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Will talk about this later).  At best, what you will get from these martial arts schools is learning martial arts as a sport or exercise.  Maybe even enough fighting knowledge to allow yourself to run away from a threat… which is a good thing, actually (but, again, I’m getting ahead of myself).  But learn how to be an authentic, skilled fighter?  I doubt it.  Take note also that most martial arts schools out there are merely businesses.  And you will get your black belt if you invest enough time (i.e. money) in weekly sessions.

Indeed, there are legit and great fighting styles out there, with legit and proficient practitioners and masters.  But they learned how to fight through intense trainings and actual experience; their actions and reactions are instinctive and calculated, and their bodies are toughened up.  Examples are elite military men, who are among the most well-instructed and well-trained in combat in the world.   

Real instructions in self-defense and combat are practical and wise.  First, the romance, illusions, and false impressions of fighting obtained from pop culture should be shattered.  The actual reality and situation of combat should be vividly presented.  Fighting is a matter of survival.  If you find yourself in a fight, it’s going to be brutal and ugly, thus, you should be prepared to fight ugly and brutally.  You should be prepared to cheat (remember, this is no longer fighting as a sport, but actual life-or-death fighting!), and should have no qualms in killing if it’s the only option to get out alive.  Yes, kill.  And maybe even go to jail for it.  “But wait, isn’t killing in self-defense absolves you of any legal consequences?” you counter.  True.  But self-defense to the law means “just using the right amount of force to defuse the threat.”  Killing as self-defense is only permissible to the law if killing was the last option.  And it’s up to the court to decide if killing was indeed the only option.  Now, when you are in combat, you are lost in the moment of fighting for survival.  And you will react instinctively, especially if you have been well-trained.  You will further strike when the opponent is already down or deliver two blows when one is enough.  All because your instincts and training tell you to (for the purpose of certainty of the threat’s defusal).  Now, that extra blow could happen to be a lethal one.  And the court – if lacking understanding of the reality of being on a combat situation – might interpret that extra blow as going overboard, thus making the self-defense defense inapplicable.   And whether you successfully make a “self-defense” defense in court or not, you will still have the stressful inconvenience of undergoing the initial police detainment, the legal hassles, the court appearances, the stigma (real or imagined), and – most significantly – the traumatic burden of the fact that you have killed, since taking someone’s life will always cause impactful emotional strain and scarring, regardless if it was intended, accidental, indirect, or in self-defense. Being aware of this possibility will be very distracting indeed and will make you hesitant to strike.  Nonetheless, it is important to forget of the consequences whenever you are in that moment of real combat since your survival is paramount. 

Second, attack first!  As soon as you come into realization that you have your back against the wall already – that there is no chance of running anymore and to fight is inevitable – you have to make the first move.  Your opponent, especially if he’s a poor fighter, would be too surprised to think and respond quickly.  If you strike first, you have the momentum and the advantage of controlling the tempo of the fight.  After your first attack, continue to strike and strike until you win or, at least, have disabled or stunned your opponent enough to allow your escape.  That’s why it’s very invaluable if you are well-trained and that you have ample combos or succession of attacks put into mind.    
Third, it is important to fight smart.  Fighting is also a science.  There is a proper way to punch or kick, or if you need to punch or kick at all.  Let me give you an example: amateurs make the mistake of punching early on a fight, but palm strikes are actually more practical.  Since your opponent is still alert early on of the fight, he will instinctively brace himself for your blow and you might hit a hard part of his body – example, the skull (especially this).  If you punched and hit something hard, it will injure or pain your knuckles, making that hand useless for the rest of the fight.  But if you use palm strikes initially, even if your blow hit a hard part of your opponent, it won’t damage your hand (no bones in your palm).  So, use palm strikes first, to open up your opponent for a punch that would surely connect and cause great damage to an intended targeted body part (preferably, the “soft” or vulnerable parts like chest, solar plexus, groin, or jaw). Therefore, don’t use a punch as your first attack unless you are sure that your punch is fast, strong, and accurate enough take out your opponent.  (Personally, I think elbow strikes and knee strikes are better attacks than punches and kicks). 

Being smart also means being practical and using your advantages.  Make use of anything available that you think can be used as a weapon.  Some great fighting disciplines actually teach that anything – from pens to umbrellas – can be used as a weapon.  Moreover, don’t ever give up your advantages if you have them.  You shouldn’t be fooled of “fighting with honor” fantasies that would compel you to give up your advantages or putting a handicap to yourself to make it an even fight between you and your opponent.  That’s just stupid.  Remember, that when you find yourself in a real fight, it’s not a sport match at all, it’s going to be a matter of survival!  So, don’t give up your gun for a knife fight.  Don’t give up your knife to fight barehanded.  Don’t fight one-on-one when you have an ally with you.  But rather, use your advantages to win!

Now that there’s a mention of guns in the previous paragraph, I would like to express my opinion that using a gun is still the most efficient and convenient form of self-defense or combat.  No matter how greatly adept one is with a form of fighting style (unless this fighting style is gun kata), he would never win with someone who has a gun and the sense and know-how of using it.  Using a gun is less hassle and less physically demanding – though would take the same focus, if not more so – than using martial arts to fight in close quarters combat.  Moreover, the legal problem that will arise from killing in self-defense with the use of a gun is actually the same with that of killing in self-defense with the use of martial arts.  Considering this, the convenience of using a gun vs. the hassle and physical pain, with possibility of injury, derived from close-combat, isn’t using a gun more preferable in self-defense?  (The downside is it’s not easy to obtain a gun and permission to carry.  And even if you manage to get those, carrying a gun everywhere is uncomfortable.  Of course, if you actually don’t mind it, then you have no problem.)   

Fourth, and most importantly, is to avoid reaching the scenario of an actual fight as much as possible.  Even if you know how to properly fight, the wisest and most practical way is still to seek the option that would make you avoid getting into a fight.  To finally fight means all non-violent options have been exhausted.  Actually, if you are having legit and sensible self-defense lessons, you will be taught that when a mugger points a gun at you and asks for your wallet, your best option is to give the mugger your wallet.  And it’s actually a sound and wise advice!  Even if you are trained and know how to disable the mugger at that situation, there’s always a possibility that something might go wrong, which could harm or kill you.  That possibility could be small, but why risk it?  In Russian roulette, only one of the six chambers of the revolver is loaded with a bullet, giving you a 17% chance of ending up with the loaded chamber, but would you dare risk it?  It’s just money, it’s not worth risking your life over (the only reasonable grounds for you to make your move at that particular moment are if: a) the thing that the mugger is trying to take away from you is worth risking your life over, or b) you noticed that his gun is on safety or not loaded).  Usually, a typical mugger just wants your wallet and doesn’t really want to actually kill.  However, if the mugger is still pointing his gun at you after you finally gave him your wallet, and there are no signs of him letting you go, then your life is now very much endangered.  This is the time where you have to use your self-defense training and finally strike (remember that it is important to strike first as soon as you have determined that the danger is presently existent and the incoming violence is inevitable). 

I am no expert in martial arts or combat or such (I did have some martial arts training as a kid, but I admit, the knowledge I got there was not much).  The thoughts I have expressed here are merely out of common sense and some knowledge I got from reading books and articles and watching shows about the subject matter.  But I hope you obtain something valuable.  Let me leave you to ponder on with the lyrics of the two choruses of Kenny Rogers’ “Coward of the Country”, which kind of summarizes my thoughts on fighting: 
“Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done –
Walk away from trouble if you can
It won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you're old enough to understand,
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man.”  
“I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you've done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek,
And papa, I should hope you understand –
Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man.”

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