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Remote Aikido Dojo

When there is nowhere else to train

That thing advertised as self-defence? Yeah, that's not self-defence.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

There is an elephant in the room and it’s time to acknowledge it. Let’s discuss self-defence for a bit. How many advertisements for a martial arts class have you seen that do not mention self-defence, usually with a synonym of ‘effective’ attached to it? I can probably count them on one hand. This is a fairly major problem because martial arts classes do not teach self-defence. That statement is likely to put many backs up against many walls. This does not change the fact that it is true.

Over the last decade I have come across a wealth of information about self-defence. I didn’t seek this out, a good friend takes it extremely seriously (find his blog at Harm and Harmony*) and through conversation about what he’s learned I’ve picked up a lot. One of the things I’ve come to realise from him is that nobody teaches self-defence. A lot of people say that they do, or that their system is ‘combat effective’ but the cold hard truth is very different.

I think the most interesting conclusion I’ve made is that self-defence is a martial art in it’s own right and should be taught as such. It is an entirely separate category from aikido, jujutsu, kendo, krav maga, savate, wrestling, etc.

That may seem like a pretty bold statement but it isn’t. It only seems that way because we don’t understand what self-defence actually is. There is a massive misconception that self-defence is fighting. The thing is that it’s not. Therein lies the problem. If it were just fighting then all those adverts would be correct. There is a caveat to that though. They would only be partially correct. Any system that does not teach all elements of combat is lacking and therefore less than effective.

I’ve raised several questions there so let’s take a look at them and consider the answers. The first is, ‘What do people think self-defence is?’

Unfortunately many people that ‘teach’ self-defence equate it with a prolonged fight. They think that the ability to go toe-to-toe with someone until you win is a requirement. There is a concept lodged in their minds that they have to remain there and fight back. I grant you there are some circumstances where that is true, but they tend to be because neither group (attackers and defenders) can leave. There is a great quote from Randy King on this subject that I love, “Always leave them a face saving exit.” In a self-defence scenario your primary goal should probably be to leave (broadly speaking, because there are so many ways in which that may not be the case). Leaving is the opposite of fighting.

They also think that they will see the attack coming. There are different types of violence and in some of them you won’t see it coming. The first you’ll know about it is when you feel an impact. You are not going to learn to defend against that in a dojo. I recently had someone tell me that aikido knife defences were more than adequate because knife attacks are generally carried out by an untrained idiot with their mums kitchen knife charging you from over 3 metres away. In actual fact the statistical reality is that they predominantly start from 30cm away and the blade is hidden until the first of many rapid stabs takes place.

The second question that I’ve raised is, ‘If self-defence isn’t fighting then what is it?’ This is where it gets interesting. Granted, actual physical combat is an element of self-defence, in the same way that nikkyo is an element of aikido, or a hook is a part of boxing. For effective self-defence you need to understand all of the elements, not just one. You can’t study all the myriad forms of nikkyo and claim you can teach aikido. You’re missing far too much of it for that to be true. Self-defence is the same.

Some of the elements that are generally missing are an understanding of:

  • The law.
  • Types of violence.
  • Places where violence happens.
  • Why violence happens.
  • Hormonal responses.
  • What to do after a fight.
  • De-escalation.
  • Conflict communication.
  • Your own personal limits with violence.
  • Pre-strike indicators.
  • Threat assessments.
  • Victim profiles.

This list goes on and on. Those are just some of the elements.

It is worth noting that most of them are not going to be taught in a standard dojo setting. Learning about these requires specialist training, understanding them takes regular practice. This doesn’t mean that learning a martial art for self-defence is a wasted endeavour. Training in how to fight is still a requirement for self-defence, it’s just that it’s a small part of it. If it were a large part of it then mma fighter’s wouldn’t lose street fights as often as they do.

Ultimately, there are many elements that go into making up effective self-defence, and fighting is only a part of it. Given that there are so many disparate elements to self-defence claiming that you can learn ‘effective self-defence’ in a martial arts class is highly disingenuous. Understanding this simple concept will lead you to realise a very simple truth:

Self-defence is an art in it’s own right and should be taught as such.


*Note that he had no input into this blog post. The mistakes are all mine.